SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- After enduring a terrifying ordeal and being displaced from her home by Hurricane Harvey, Nicole Rada has found comfort in her new home at Union Catholic.

Rada and her family felt they found their dream home when they moved from Elizabeth, NJ, to Spring, Texas before Rada began her freshman year of high school. But that all changed in August of 2017 when Rada and her family had their lives turned upside down.

“We were a week into school when Hurricane Harvey hit,’’ said Rada, who lived just outside Houston. “Other areas were told to evacuate, but we weren’t. We were given flash flood warnings. The first day it started raining hard and we got a message that there wouldn’t be school, but we thought it would just be a rainy day and maybe a little flooding in the streets. But two days later, I saw water coming into our house. It was everywhere.’’

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After the water reached two feet in their home, Rada, her mother, two sisters (2 ½ and 3 years old at the time), and stepsisters (10 and 12 at the time), took refuge upstairs, where they felt they could stay for a couple days until the rain stopped.

"We had food and water, but then we lost power and realized we had to get out because of my little sisters,’’ said Rada. "They couldn’t stay in those conditions.’’

But how would they get to a safe place?

“We called 911, but they didn’t answer because they were so busy helping other people,’’ said Rada, who said the water level in their home reached six feet after they left. “We were rescued by a father and son who we didn’t know. They were on jet skis and were going around helping people. It was pouring out and my little sisters were screaming and scared, and I was terrified. But I had to be strong for my mom and my sisters.’’

Rada and her family eventually wound up at a friend’s house, where they stayed for two weeks before moving into an apartment, where they lived until last December. In December, they moved to their current home in Roselle Park. Rada’s grandparents live in Elizabeth.  

After attending Roselle Park High School last semester, Rada sought a school that provided more stability and had a strong family atmosphere and sense of community.  

Union Catholic, which showed its strong commitment to social justice by helping victims of Hurricane Harvey through a variety of fundraisers and donation drives, was exactly what Rada was looking for.  

Last year, UC held a High 5 Tag Day that raised money that was sent to Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School in Beaumont, Texas to help in the relief effort. UC’s Peer Ministry and Environmental Club held bake sales, the cross-country teams donated backpacks filled with school supplies, and Mrs. Kamila Ciringione, a French teacher at Union Catholic, adopted a classroom in Houston. Mrs. Ciringione collected several school supplies from her students and the community to donate.

“I wanted to find a school that I could still go to if we moved again,’’ said Rada, a junior at UC. ‘When I first came to Union Catholic (for the Student For A Day Program) I felt very comfortable. Everyone was so sweet and super welcoming. It reminded me so much of the Southern hospitality in Texas.’’  

Rada, who plays soccer at UC, feels her journey to Union Catholic was meant to be.

“I always say that things happen for a reason and God has his plan,’’ said Rada, who plans to return to Texas to attend college. “Maybe his plan was for me to find Union Catholic, and find all the friends that I’ve been making. Everything about Union Catholic makes me feel at home.’’