Former Highland Mills woman is part of an organization that responds to natural disasters across the world
Former Highland Mills woman is part of an organization that responds to natural disasters across the world

Provided photo Former Highland Mills resident Heather Curtis, pictured here third from the left, is trying to help hurricane victims in North Carolina piece their lives back together through a group called “All Hearts and Hands.”

By Christine Urio
While area residents continue to get ready for the holidays, others in more distant places are still facing the ramifications of devastating hurricanes.
But Heather Curtis, a former Highland Mills resident, is trying to help hurricane victims in North Carolina piece their lives back together through a group called “All Hearts and Hands.”
“All Hearts and Hands” responds to natural disasters all over the world, including floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes by addressing the needs of the community, listening to local residents, and engaging volunteers to rebuild safe community infrastructures so that families can recover faster after natural disasters.
“Our team performs debris removal, muck and gutting damaged homes, chainsaw work, salvaging belongings when possible, and oftentimes rebuilding homes and schools to help people return to some type of normalcy,” Curtis said.
Curtis was inspired to become involved with the group after the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy and has been a member since March 2013.
“My parents suffered damage to their home when it flooded during Hurricane Irene in 2011,” she said. “Local volunteers helped them to muck and gut their house when I was out of the country and could not physically help.
"When Hurricane Sandy hit a year later," she added, "I was shocked to see the damage left behind in the Northeast and felt compelled to pay it forward and help those who so desperately needed it since I could not help my own family the year prior.”
It was while Curtis was working with another non-profit that she stumbled on All Hearts and Hands and applied to be a volunteer. She was given a team leader position.
“Because the organization provides housing and food, it was a perfect match,” said Curtis. “I have been a part of the ‘All Hands’ family ever since.”
Seeing the world, one disaster after anotherSince then, Curtis has volunteered on Staten Island and Long Island (both Hurricane Sandy for response and rebuild); Detroit (for floods); Mississippi and Arkansas (both for tornadoes); Colorado (for flood rebuild); Texas (for Hurricane Harvey); Georgia (for tornados); Tennessee (for fires); Ecuador (for earthquake response and rebuilding 60 bamboo homes); Louisiana (for flood response and rebuild); and North Carolina (for flood response).
“It’s tough to say what my favorite volunteer experience has been because every project has been magical, but I am wowed nearly every day by the beauty we get to be a part of since we are so privileged to be welcomed into a stranger's home at one of the lowest points in their lives,” Curtis said. “I’ve had so many memorable moments, but the best moments are when homeowners or volunteers are moved to tears because they see that there are still good people doing good work and helping out others in a world where that has become so rare. Restoring hope in others is perhaps the most magical thing we do.”
Deconstruction, then rebuildSince being a part of this organization, Curtis feels that she has grown as a person.
“I am so happy to have found this group because it has changed my life,” she said. “The help we give to homeowners, what we learn about home deconstruction and rebuild, the amazing people we meet and love, and the great depths we learn about ourselves—the experience is unparalleled.”
And Curtis feels she’s become a stronger woman.
“It’s challenging, oftentimes, as construction work sites are often thought to be a man's domain, but we women prove that we can perform tasks just as well as our male counterparts,” she said. “Many of our teams are led by women, and I have learned so much about home construction and deconstruction, as well as how to be a true and strong leader.”
“All Hands and Hearts” not only has a strong presence in the communities it services, but it also forms a sense of community as well.
“I cannot even really put this into proper words - I have made countless friends and many of whom have become family, and found a sense of community, love, and true family that I have never felt in my life,” she said. “You cannot truly know the depth of love and community until you join us on a project; it is a beauty to behold.”
“All Hands and Hearts” is a well-oiled machine of help to people who are desperately in need of help, guidance, and companionship after a natural disaster uproots the life they once knew.
“We meet people from all over the world, all walks of life, all religions and cultures, and we come together for a common goal—to help,” said Curtis. “We learn so much about ourselves, expanding the limits of what we once thought we could do, we meet the most incredible people on earth, and strangers quickly become family—I have never experienced so much genuine love before in my entire life.”
'That is priceless'The group not only changes the lives of those facing the devastation from natural disasters, but also the volunteers.
“We help because we want to and we can,” Curtis said. “When a homeowner tells me, ‘Without your team, we would have walked away and lost our home,’ that is priceless and I will never forget those moments.”
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