So when the forecast began to warn Galveston County residents of the impending hurricane nearing the end of August in 2017, Amy started to feel silly when Camiel told her they needed to leave town.
“Being from the north, tornadoes were my expertise,” Amy said. “This was my first hurricane experience… My husband was pretty much like, ‘You’re going to leave. We have a three-year-old.’ And I just remember feeling stupid, and telling him, ‘Babe no one else is leaving. It’s going to be okay. This doesn’t seem to be a big deal.’”
But Camiel persisted, and by the time Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, he had convinced Amy to take their toddler and their 10-year-old daughter to College Station – a safe distance from Hitchcock, where the Claeys’ were renting a home.
When word got out that it was safe to return, Camiel and Amy returned to Hitchcock on the Wednesday that followed Hurricane Harvey to find that their home had taken on enough water to have completely submerged their electrical outlets.
“It was something I’ve never seen before,” Amy said. “In Hitchcock, almost everybody flooded… and I was trying to explain it to my friends at home, and I just told them, ‘You can’t put into words what is going on down here.’”
The Claeys found a hotel in Galveston through FEMA, and quickly got to work mucking out their house. But only a few days into the process, the owners of the house told them they would need to remodel the entire house and asked if the Claeys had anywhere to go for the foreseeable future.
Between their makeshift home at the Galveston hotel, the work going at their house in Hitchcock, and the fact that Camiel and Amy’s jobs were away from both of those places, Amy began to feel overwhelmed.
But that was when a realtor friend of theirs came calling. Knowing the situation they were in with the rental house, and the sure influx of home buyers following the storm, she took the initiative to help Camiel and Amy out, and came to them with an option.
“She sent me the house, and said, ‘They’re willing to work with you,’” Amy said about her realtor friend. “She goes, ‘Come look at it. Let’s go!’ So I stopped what I was doing, hopped in the car, and I left.”
Camiel and Amy signed the paperwork the same day and moved in just a few days later.
“To be honest, the house we picked was the only one that didn’t have about five offers on the table already,” Amy said. “It was in [West] League City, and that was where we wanted to be, and the house was nice, so I just said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ For some reason it felt right.”
* * *
The day Camiel, Amy, and their daughters moved into the new place, their neighbors noticed them and came over to introduce themselves.
“We said ‘hi,’ you know, and didn’t think anything of it,” Amy said. “I was super excited because [their daughter] and Faith were the same age. I thought Oh my gosh, maybe this is why we’re here… Then they just would casually come over every once in a while, and check in. [They] were like, ‘Well what do you need? What can we help you with? What’s going on?’ They came over with backpacks, school supplies, toys, blankets, and just all kinds of stuff that they had. They were donations from their church for Harvey.”
One night in that first week, the neighbors cooked dinner for the Claeys family and brought it over to them.
“You know, when we lived in Hitchcock it was a little bit more country,” Amy said. “We lived there for almost two years and didn’t even know our neighbor’s names. And then we were here less than a week and we knew our neighbors, we knew their story, and that they were wanting to help us.”
Camiel and Amy met another man from the same church as their neighbors, who also lived in their new neighborhood and that was when they decided they should give this church a try.
The Claeys tried “every church in the Galveston County area” since they’d moved to Texas. But once they heard that their neighbors attended a campus of Clear Creek Community Church that was close to where they lived, they were convinced to give it a try.
“Everyone was so welcoming the minute you walked in the door,” Amy said about that first day at CCCC’s West Campus. “From walking in and trying to find the kids’ classrooms, to getting them registered, to trying to find the auditorium, where we’re going, what’s going on – everyone was just super friendly and wanted to help. And that’s what we were looking for; people who wanted to get to know us and have a relationship with us… We just want to be somewhere where we’re known, and we know people.”
The Claeys have been attending CCCC ever since. They say they’re excited to get more involved and become more connected in the church family. And they’re always quick to add how grateful they are for their neighbors who have become an even bigger part of their lives in the last few months.
But while the Claeys have benefitted, the neighbors have also been on the receiving end from this newfound bond.
“We live on a street where there weren’t any other kids around our daughter’s age,” Camiel and Amy’s new neighbors said. “Our daughter had been praying that God would send her a friend for over two years. This was the answer.”