“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The fateful weekend before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, my mother’s voice rang. “Pack a bag, we’re leaving tonight.” In my youthful naivety, I stuffed a backpack with homework and video games, blissfully unaware of the devastation barreling towards the city. I would never submit the homework I completed on the ride out because my school was destroyed.

In the coming days adrift in a sea of upheaval, my family would relocate to Houston, Texas, as newly minted refugees.

In those roughest hours, however, the simple kindness and support from a new community would reveal itself. At my new school, I was left a seat at the lunch table, a wordless message—“you are welcomed here.” Neighbors offered us warm meals and other genuine acts of kindness that helped as we laid down new roots.

I will pay it forward by creating spaces overflowing with unconditional welcome, so we can weather any storm together.

— Ankit Tandon