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Student Plans Disaster Relief Nonprofit

Tyrian Robertson ’17 sees how the broader world is at work in her life and is inspired to use her skills and abilities to benefit others.

After graduation, Robertson hopes to start a nonprofit that helps areas recover from natural disasters.

“I want to have a team move into an area and work in that area for three to six years after the natural disaster,” she says. “The three core elements I want my team to address are the physical rebuild, community involvement, and helping youth with social justice and leadership skills.”

Robertson, who is considering a double major in Peace and Global Studies and Business and Nonprofit Management, says community service always has been important to her, but the idea for her nonprofit began taking shape after she arrived at Earlham.

“This all came together after I started in Bonner,” she says.

Earlham is one of 24 colleges and universities that hosts a Bonner Scholar Program, and each year 15 incoming first-year students are selected to participate in the four-year program. Bonner Scholars commit to complete 140 hours of service per semester, about 10 hours per week, and two summers of service.

“Being involved in the program has helped me shape and form my ideas,” she says. “I have already started networking and making contacts with people who are willing to work with me to see this through.”

Some of those contacts she made in June and July during her first Bonner summer of service at the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. Robertson was born in New Orleans, where she spent her first 10 years before relocating to Dallas after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“My mom heard that Dallas was helping people, so we went there literally on a whim,” she remembers. Although she was too young to participate in the building, Robertson’s family helped to build their home, which was completed in 2007 in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.  Robertson may have been too young then to understand exactly what was taking place but she quickly caught on this summer.

“Working for Habitat is a learn-as-you-go situation, but you pick it up easily and quickly,” she says. “It was amazing getting to spend time with family members in New Orleans, and I loved the hands-on element of Habitat construction and the constant hustle and bustle of Habitat’s ReStore.”

After completing 280 hours of installing plywood, siding, trim, insulation, roof trusses, and working in Habitat’s Restore, Robertson was motivated to start small building projects of her own.

“I used power tools, drills, nail guns, and hammers,” she says.

“Afterward I wondered how was I going to live my life without knowing these things?”

Construction skills may have been new to Robertson this summer, but community service is second-nature.  When Robertson graduated from Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, she had logged more than 500 hours of community service — 400 more than was required.

Many of the hours she accumulated with her church, Dallas Metro Dream Center, volunteering at hour-long children’s sidewalk Sunday school programs in the inner-city of Dallas and at the church’s annual summer camp.  After years of volunteering with her church and its programs, Robertson recently learned that this same group had helped her family when they first arrived in Dallas.

“I feel like my life is a bunch of coincidences,” she says. “Things happen and you have to keep moving. Life will knock you down, but when it does you get back up and keep moving.

“When you experience disaster first-hand, it opens your eyes. I see that a lot more could have been done in New Orleans. The amount that gets done has to do with resources and involvement. Why do we rely on so few resources when there is such an abundance?

“Similarly we rely on a few people to get things done. Why not use everyone and all their attributes. If we did, we could get so much more done.”

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Tyrian Robertson

Tyrian Robertson 2017

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Major at Earlham: Peace and Global Studies, Business and Nonprofit Management

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