The boat already carried great meaning before the storm of Hurricane Harvey.
It had been passed down through three generations of men, a family heirloom bearing cherished memories of father-son fishing trips. Its significance would rise with the rain.
As the commanding officer of the Salvation Army’s Houston Northwest Corps, Capt. Jay Ward was prepared to serve in the relief effort once Harvey passed, but plans changed when his 18-year-old son Christian read messages of despair on the Nextdoor app. The people in distress were less than two miles away.
“Dad, we’ve got a boat,” Christian said. “We have to go help.”
So, wearing athletic shorts and tennis shoes with no socks, they headed out into the floodwaters.
Ward recalls a man waving from his second-story window with a look of desperation. Inside his home, a flat screen television hung on the wall, framed photographs decorated the mantle. Everything appeared normal, except for the three feet of water and their floating furniture.
“It was a really odd feeling,” Ward said. “If you didn’t look down, you would never know that his house was full of water.”
Ward and his son used the family boat to rescue that man, plus 40 more people and 10 dogs over the next two days last August.
Ward’s contributions weren’t over once the waters receded. His church and community center became the Salvation Army’s first incident command post in Houston. Volunteers from all over the country met there to coordinate canteen, hydration and spiritual counseling services.
In a month’s time, the organization would serve nearly 1 million meals by way of 90 mobile canteens throughout Texas.
“We are not a search-and-rescue organization,” said Alexis Thompson, director of development at the Salvation Army of Greater Houston. “But Captain Ward jumped in and knew that he had to do something.”
“Our mission is to meet human needs without discrimination, and he did that in his own way.”