Even 10 years after leaving her home behind under the threat of Hurricane Katrina and being adopted into the Bryan-College Station community, Deborah Miller is still thankful for the support she received when hope ran out -- and she does her best to show it every day.
"I was just so overwhelmed and devastated because of the hurricane when I got here," said Miller, who fled Louisiana with 17 family members the day before the hurricane struck. "The motel put us out and the Lincoln Center opened its doors to us to come in. The community brought us food and clothes and drinks. They really took care of us."
Among the many who provided aid to the evacuees was Jeannie McGuire and the nonprofit Project Unity -- though, McGuire said, it was never something they planned for.
"We weren't looking at a hurricane coming with any sense of urgency, we were just going about our business," McGuire said. "We're not a big organization, we're just a small nonprofit. We were just going to be watching on TV with everyone else."
Everything changed however when McGuire said the nonprofit received a phone call about a sick child and a hungry family staying in a local motel.
"I don't know how they got our number, but they were wondering if we could help them," McGuire said.
In the company of another one of the nonprofit's staff members, McGuire said that they went to the motel expecting to find a single family, but were confronted instead with dozens.
McGuire said that she remembered approaching the building to find several people emerging from various rooms, wearing what she said appeared to be the clothes they fled the hurricane in, and pleading for help.
"The gravity of what had happened was just upon Project Unity in a way that we would have never imagined when we pulled into that parking lot," McGuire said.
She described the atmosphere at that moment as one of "shock and trauma" as the evacuees found themselves "standing in a town they had probably never heard of" in desperate need of help.
Although the nonprofit did its best to provide resources to the displaced, McGuire said the staff expected that when shelters opened, it would be back to business as usual for the nonprofit.
What they didn't know, she said, was that it was only the beginning of a two-year process in which the nonprofit worked with 200 families to help get them back on their feet.
"We just poured our heart and soul into helping the people who became our community residents," McGuire said. "It changed a lot of us in terms of what we thought we were here for, and it gave us a different vision into where we thought we need to be. For us it was incredibly eye-opening."
While McGuire said that her nonprofit alone worked with 200 families -- each of which she said often consisted of at least three members -- she added that there is "no way to know" how many more may have also settled down and stayed here in the area.
Kay Parker, who was serving as the vice president of community impact with the United Way of the Brazos Valley at the time, said that she remembers the time as "fast and frantic," but that she was impressed by the "great team effort" the various organization around the area put forth to help those who had come to the area seeking help.
Parker also remembered the strain many aid workers felt as they powered through 12 and 14-hour days. Eventually, she said, many had to remind themselves that although they may want to help, rest was necessary for them just as it was for those who had fled the storm.
Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk echoed the sentiment as well, recalling that his office also had a hard time remembering that it was important to "hang in there" and care for themselves as they worked to not only provide shelters and evacuees with security and information, but also keep up with their normal duties.
Kirk also praised the "benevolent community" that worked so hard to accommodate its displaced neighbors. He added that "we learned a lot," and if a similar situation should present itself again, the community could do it again and do it well.
As the years have passed, Miller said the community has embraced her and her family, and she is proud to call Bryan-College Station her home.
"Even though we came from another state next door, we still were treated with love and compassion," Miller said. "They embraced us and they really were concerned about us."
Miller said she and her family have "accomplished things and are moving forward" as a part of the community.
Together with her son-in-law, Miller recently opened a Cajun restaurant in College Station called The Remnant from Nawlins Cajun and Country Cuisine.
While she said that, over the years, she has met others who stuck around in the area after evacuating from Hurricane Katrina, it was when they opened the restaurant that she really started to meet her fellow Louisiana natives.
Texas, she said, is growing on her though, as she now has nieces and nephews who were born right here in College Station.
"We've even got some Texas babies here now," Miller said.