5 Ways Working On Disaster Relief Changed My Life Forever

by Mikey McManus

On May 20, 2013, an EF5 Tornado scorched a 17-mile path through a heavily populated section of Moore, Oklahoma. Twenty-five people lost their lives, almost 400 more were injured and countless homes incurred major structural damage.

The almost 2-mile radius of the twister meant that along all 17 of those miles, everything you could see with the naked eye was completely obliterated. It was an endless sea of rubble I never could have imagined witnessing in the United States of America.

The following week, we showed up to help, and it ended up giving a whole new meaning to my life.

I showed up with my four best friends. We had been filming a traveling comedy series, each week spotlighting young people making the world a better place, and we decided unanimously to cancel our episode and use our time, instead, to help.

When we got there, we were flat broke, with just our cameras and our willingness to help. After sleeping that first night in a roadside ditch, literally, we made our way into the disaster for the first time.

This is our story:

Every day we were on the ground working, the temperature was about 95 degrees. There was also a brown haze over the destruction, as microscopic pieces of mud and fiberglass insulation clung to the air.

This combination meant that the pores of our skin were open wide, and as the brown cloud clung to us, it caused a burning rash that was almost impossible to wash off.

Aside from that burning sensation, what happened that week gave me a feeling I will never be able to relive: a feeling of purpose.

I had recently survived my quarter-life crisis in spectacular fashion (refer to earlier, the part about trying to change the world with comedy).

While seeing the positive effects of the show gives me some semblance of purpose, there is nothing that can possibly compare to the sense of purpose I felt when blood and sweat were literally pouring from my aching body in the name of helping others.

Here’s a short list of how my life changed forever after that week:

1. I opened my closed mind about religion

Those who know me well know that I’m an atheist, an assh*le of an atheist at that. I had closed my mind to religion, and I viewed all religious people as ignorant.

But that week taught me who was really ignorant; I saw an outpouring of love from volunteer after volunteer, who were all Christians. We became friends with several people who devote their entire lives to helping others in the name of God, and those same people helped us.

They gave us food and a place to stay while we were working, and thank God they did because we would have been sleeping in a ditch again if they hadn’t opened their hearts to us, and our minds to them.

2. I learned leadership under pressure

One of Chance Craven and D.R.A.D.T.’s beliefs is that everyone has the ability to not only be of service in a disaster zone, but also the ability to be a leader. Their program came in during the first two weeks and established lines of communication and chains of command. They empower citizens who want to help to run their own relief.

The day I led my own strike team for the first time, incorporating everything I was taught, I didn’t even realize his team had moved on from Moore.

3. I did something good that is tangible

Everyone I know wants to make the world a better place. It’s something that fills me with hope and excitement for the future our generation can create. One of the biggest problems with motivating Millennials to take action, however, is being unable to see tangible positive results.

When my strike team spent one day with a homeowner named Jamie whose house was destroyed, we saved him thousands of dollars he would have had to spend out of his pocket; his insurance would not have covered it.

We all know one of the biggest problems in this country is the rampant greed that runs the private insurance industry, and in one afternoon, we were able to save one person from it.

4. I met people I will never forget

The idea of friendships forged through service is not a novel idea, but for those who have never experienced it, I assure you, it is just as rewarding as we say it is.

Heath Mooneyham, you’re a f*cking saint, bro. You’re one of the greatest guys I will ever meet in my entire life; thank you so much for being my friend. Chance Craven, you’re a hero, bud. Meeting you was the greatest coincidence I’ve ever experienced, and your work is so noble and inspirational.

Scott Revels, without you, we would never have been able to help one family start to put their lives back together. Of course, Amber and Kris Rawlins, the small amount of time we spent with you gave us the strength to spend months on the road, and many more nights in roadside ditches.

5. I witnessed the power of the human spirit

There were hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers in that disaster zone from all over America. Many of them traveled halfway across the country, missing work and leaving their families just to be a part of the team that helped rebuild Moore.

They all shared one common reason: It was the right thing to do. The specifics and syntax of why exactly they came were varied, but the idea of moral “should-ness” was certainly universal. It just made sense, and it validated all of us more than we anticipated.

Chance Craven warned me on day one: “You’ll be surprised. So often the people who give help actually end up getting much more out of this than the people who receive help.” I couldn’t have possibly imagined how much more I received that week than expected.

I challenge every one of you to try it; volunteer for a week, a day even, and find out for yourself. I guarantee that even when you put in everything you can possibly put in, what you will get out will be so much more.

Learn more and contact disaster relief and disaster training at or do what we did -- just show up and ask how you can help.

Photo Courtesy: Instagram