Surviving the Storm

By Megan Diveto, Associate Director of Communications

Out of destruction comes hope.

In April 2011, one of the largest and deadliest outbreaks of tornados spread across the southern United States. Alabama, one of the most impacted states, had insurmountable damages to homes, businesses and many lives lost. One of those affected was Taylor Reed UAH ’15. During this devastating storm system his house, like so many others, was destroyed. While Taylor was only a high school senior, he knew that this traumatic event for his family and his community would stay with them for years to come.

“I was only about a mile away and my family, my dad, mom and sister, were at home,” Reed said. “I saw the tornado and winds were over 200 mph. So, there was no real way to evacuate, you just have to hunker down and hope it goes around you. My house took a direct hit; my family was picked up and thrown. The entire two-story brick home was completely destroyed. My family was miraculously protected and not injured. It took hours for me to be able to get to them and learn they were okay. All power was lost, cellphone towers were down, no phones worked and roads were completely blocked and unrecognizable with debris.”

Taylor and his family were graciously offered a place to stay by family members, but others weren’t so lucky. A shelter was established at a local Publix Super Market and while it helped many people, the process of digging through the rubble of homes, trying to salvage any remaining keepsakes, was a dirty job. The shelter had little in the way of cleanliness necessities, no showers or extra toiletries, just the essentials to survive.

The community rebuilt and helped one another get back on their feet. Taylor ended up going to school locally at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), and would occasionally recall the memory of the storm that ravaged his community and think about what could’ve been. Could something more been done before? But even more importantly, what more could’ve been done after?

He was a campus leader and an engineering major when the message went out about a new fraternity coming to campus. Badge #1, brother J. Tryon Hubbard Jr. Alabama ’64, from Alabama Alpha was determined to start a Phi Kappa Psi colony at UAH. Intrigued by the opportunity, Taylor connected with Hubbard and Phi Psi headquarters to learn more. He discovered that his values aligned with the organization and found the opportunity to build something from the ground up enticing. There began Taylor’s Phi Psi journey.

It wasn’t long before he had recruited a few friends and student leaders to join him in building the colony. They began the long and hard journey of constructing a chapter and on May 2, 2015, Taylor was initiated as Badge #1 at Alabama Gamma. In their first year as a chapter, the brothers won the sports cup, raised the most philanthropy dollars on campus (for the chapter’s cause which helps those affected by homelessness in Huntsville), and won the presidents cup which is awarded to the overall best chapter on the UAH campus.

For Taylor, his two years in Phi Psi were transformative. He graduated from UAH and went to work for the Department of Defense as an engineer. Throughout his time working, he always kept the spirit of service alive by helping those in his community. It wasn’t until he was presented the opportunity in 2019 to volunteer for ShowerUp, a nonprofit organization that provides a shower and hygiene resources for those experiencing homelessness, that he would begin to serve his community in a bigger way. Founded in 2016 by Paul and Rhonda Schmitz in Nashville, Tennessee, ShowerUp brought their mobile shower unit to Huntsville for a day. Through his Phi Psi philanthropic connections, Taylor was contacted and asked if he would like to launch a fundraiser to expand ShowerUp to Huntsville. He agreed and almost immediately the funds were raised by a large anonymous donor. That led to another question, who would run ShowerUp in Huntsville?

Taylor was hesitant, no one else was stepping up and he was fresh out of college with a full-time job. What did he know about running a branch of a nonprofit? Debating whether he should take on this responsibility, Taylor was invited to a ShowerUp event in Nashville to see the behind-the-scenes work. “The event was held at a school that was near a bridge where there were around 100 tents that people were sleeping in under this bridge,” Reed said. He participated in the event and saw what it was like to host and provide this service to a large area. He went back home and thought about what it would be like to run these events. Would he have time? The capacity? The support? A few days after leaving Nashville, Taylor would turn on the news to find that an EF3 tornado had hit Nashville and specifically the homeless camp where he had served with ShowerUp days prior. During this small tornado outbreak, 25 people were killed, over 300 people were injured, and the total damaged incurred was over $1.6 billion. Thoughts of his family and his home raced through his mind. He remembered the devastation, digging through the rubble of what was once precious memories, all wiped away in an instant.

Taylor made up his mind shortly after this tragic disaster, he would become the Lead Volunteer for ShowerUp and make sure that anyone who needed these services would be able to get them, no questions asked. His experience in Phi Psi had taught him how to manage his time and given him the passion to serve. “Starting Phi Psi on campus and being president for two years there helped me learn how to run an organization and get people rallied together to support a cause,” Reed said. “So, in essence, I did the same thing with ShowerUp.”

In May 2022, ShowerUp celebrated their second anniversary in Huntsville. They have provided over 2,000 showers for those who need it.  ShowerUp provides a mobile shower unit that contains three showers traveling across different locations across cities to host events. These events are lively, with music, karaoke, volunteers and organizations serving food and providing a variety of services for the homeless population. The mobile units can also be utilized for disaster relief, and it is Taylor’s hope that ShowerUp can expand across the country to be there for people who need it.

“It truly is a joy to serve others,” Reed says. “When we would go out into the community for philanthropy events in Phi Psi, we wouldn’t expect anything in return. That applies directly to what I do with ShowerUp today because I don’t expect anything and it’s just a joy knowing that we were able to help someone.”