By Gretchen Hjelmstad, American Red Cross

In the dark of night and blind in one eye from glaucoma, Kenneth Allen didn’t need a spotlight to see that something was very wrong: Water from Hurricane Harvey was flooding into his home.

“What are you going to do? Get mad at God?” Allen said weeks later as he sat safe and dry in the American Red Cross emergency shelter at the Chinese Community Center. What he calls his “go-with-the-flow” attitude has been keeping him upbeat in the face of challenges and uncertainty.

Kenneth Allen Photo_Uplifting Shelters
Kenneth Allen of Houston relaxes on his cot at an Red Cross emergency shelter. His casual composure and witty remarks keep spirits high for those around him. (Red Cross photo by Gretchen Hjelmstad)

His latest hurdle has been nailing down an Immediate Assistance Program grant from the Red Cross. Since the program was launched and then relaunched due to overwhelming demand, the Red Cross has approved more than 100,000 families and individuals to receive more than $45 million in increments of $400 per recipient.

Allen hopes to be one of the growing number of Hurricane Harvey victims to receive assistance. The $400 will go a long way for someone who lost everything. Allen would be able to think ahead to housing options, buying his own food and getting back to normal.

He was optimistic as he dialed into the Red Cross hotline the first day it reopened. “So far so good,” he said with a grin as the first step was completed and he received a confirmation email.

But when time passed without the news he was waiting for, he realized he may have made a mistake on his application. Fortunately, there is an appeals process, even if he’s initially denied. Allen is adamant that he won’t get upset about things he has no control over.

What he can control is how he relates to his fellow shelter residents and the Red Cross staff.

“Joke with them, give them a hug every now and again,” Allen insists. Amidst the uncertainty, it’s the simple, unexpected comment that puts a smile on people’s faces.

“What do you call a can opener that doesn’t work?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“A can’t opener!”

One embrace at a time, he also recharges the Red Cross volunteers who are giving their time to help those in need. “I went up and gave her a hug,’ Allen said. “(I said,) Take all of the energy in me, because you’re going to need it to get through this.

“It’s people helping people,” he said of the Red Crossers who have helped him. He was impressed that people from across the country, and even Canada and Mexico, put their regular lives on hold to support Houston.

“They come down here and do this, even though they are away from their families. Nice people. People helping people.”