We all have friends and colleagues past and present—and, in some cases, family—who were affected by the series of hurricanes in August and September that struck islands in the Caribbean and wide swaths of the U.S. mainland. The state of Texas and the City of Houston were especially hard hit by Hurricane Harvey in late August.
We recently received a letter from annuitant Dianne Dickinson, whose daughter Julie—an Aramco brat—lives in the Houston area where she serves as principal of a local elementary school. We would like to share Dianne’s letter with you:
My daughter, Julie Dickinson is principal of Kolter Elementary here in Houston. Kolter is one of the schools that didn’t survive the floods of Harvey. Julie has led a large group of people to help the families of students and staff in the neighborhood to strip the houses of sheetrock and furniture. The group includes a group of Aramco brats from Houston. There’s been tremendous support from brats in New York, Austin, Washington, and as far away as Austria.
Her school is going to be moved to a different location for at least two years. Members of the University of Houston Cougars football team were there on the 25th of September to welcome the little Kolter Cougars to their new location and first day of school. Our youngest son Grant, who is Director of Student Services in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, trucked in supplies immediately after the flood and also flew to Houston to help welcome the kids back to school.
The support given by brats to restore Kolter Elementary has been wonderful. So, too, has all the financial support Aramco families have given to the effort.
We encourage readers to contribute in whatever ways they can to support the recovery efforts underway in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and other areas devastated by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Donations to organizations like the Red Cross are always welcome, of course. If, however, you would like to target your donation to something more personal and direct, you might want to consider the case of Kolter Elementary.
While overseeing the resurrection of Kolter Elementary, Julie Dickinson somehow found time to fill Aramco ExPats in on her experience as an Aramco brat who grew up in the Kingdom. Here is what we found out...
The Dickinson family moved to Saudi Arabia in April 1978 when Julie was just nine months old. Her parents, Greg, Vice President of Finance (ASC), and Dianne, of Housing and Recreation, lived in Dhahran for thirty years where they raised their three children - Kenny Williams (DH '81), Julie Dickinson (DH '92), and Grant Dickinson (DH '93).
Julie went to boarding school in Maryland, to college in Virginia, and to graduate school in Mississippi. During those years, she continued to return “home" (as Julie calls it) three or four times a year.
Following graduation, Julie was a special needs teacher for over ten years and an assistant principal for four years. She has now been principal of Kolter Elementary School for two years.
We asked Julie to tell us about events as they unfolded from the time flooding began to threaten her school and the surrounding community.
Julie: Three men were asked to stay in our building as it was deemed to be in a “high risk” area. During the storm, I was kept up to date about the surrounding neighborhood through Kolter families that live in the immediate area. I was also informed by the men located in the building that water was quickly rising and that they needed to be rescued. The men used a ladder to break through a bathroom window and climb onto the roof, where they were rescued by the Coast Guard.
I was in constant communication with families in the neighborhood and, one by one, we heard of homes suffering significant amounts of water damage and of our students needing to be rescued. It was heartbreaking to spend hours trying to locate students and their families along with my faculty members.
The next day I was able to rescue a teacher and her daughter who lived off US 610 and South Braeswood, but I was still unable to get to the school. The following morning, I was able to move a Kolter family into my apartment who lived across the street from the school but, again, was not able to get to the building itself. Finally, after almost two full days, I was able to drive to Kolter. It was completely devastated. The cafeteria had four feet of water, classrooms had two to three feet, and materials were scattered about in places they did not belong.
Those materials, the furniture, and all the cabinetry were a total loss. We were able to salvage some of the campus technology, but not all of it. A few pieces of furniture were saved, but most of it had to be disposed of to avoid health issues down the road.
By Day 4, working with my administration team, we created a make-shift volunteer center not far from the school where we could safely organize recovery efforts. We worked out of the front lawn of one of our family members’ homes and organized a grassroots effort to start gutting and cleaning out homes that belonged to our students. We spent the next week maintaining that effort and were able to work on over fifty homes in and around the Meyerland area.
During this time, work was being done to clean out and remove all materials from the school which was located just a few feet from where we were working. It was tough to watch. About a week after the storm, we were given word that the school would be relocated to a building that had been vacant for about sixteen months. It needed a major overhaul, but it would keep most of us together. My teachers started to work at satellite campuses to begin recreating their learning materials that were lost during the storm. My administration team worked out of my parents’ dining room so we could start organizing our move to a new building. Last week, alongside a team of contractors, we descended upon the empty campus. We had only three days to turn an empty building into our new school home, and we did it!
This past week, we opened our new school and, to be honest, it already feels just like us, like home!
We asked Julie to comment on the support she received from the Aramco community.
Julie: During the time when we were working on cleaning out homes (ripping out sheetrock, tearing up floors, etc.), I had a number of Aramco friends that volunteered to help. One day, Chris Robles, Fabio Celeita, and Rick Celeita joined us. They helped us work on the home of my front office registrar, Nellie Gonzales. It was an all-day effort, and Chris brought in members of his team to completely demolish the damaged interior.
On one of the days when we were working around the school, Krista Borders, Marcus Jones, and Leah Stevens worked on the same sort of tasks at homes throughout the Meyerland neighborhood.
While local Brats helped on the ground, Brats from New York, DC and other locations have reached out and supported the rebuild efforts.
Our efforts have also benefited from the generosity of a number of former Aramcons who contributed monetarily through PTO fundraising efforts.
If you are interested in offering support to help Julie and her community rebuild Kolter Elementary, please click the button below: