The fear and darkness are vivid memories for Richan, whose home in Cebu in the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Rai in 2021, and the tears flow as she recounts the storm’s aftermath and how her employers helped her in a difficult time.

“I’m getting emotional right now,” said Richan as she got choked up with tears, recounting how Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Virtual Employees and HireSmart Cares, stepped in to help her family — and other HireSmart employees — after the typhoon.

The storm took out electricity in her community for a month, but HireSmart helped Richan find light, literally.

“The financial assistance they gave us was really good,” she said. “We were able to buy generators.”

Richan, who serves as a resource support specialist for a property management client in California, was able to continue performing tasks for her client during the extended power outage. And her family was able to have times of relative normalcy in the month-long blackout thanks to the electricity.

“We did at least get to experience a little bit of comfort because we knew we could do something,” she said, noting that the family watched some TV and charged its electrical devices during the four hours in the morning and four hours at night that they ran the generator set.

Though the internet was also out at her house for a month, she was able to find places with access, and she continued working.

“There were signals in a few areas,” she said. “So when I learned about it, I would take my laptop there.”

Her teenage daughter could also continue with her online classes thanks to the generators that kept her computer charged.

Richan discovered the financial help from HireSmart eight days after the storm when she was able to check her bank account and messages.

“I was just surprised something was in there,” she said. “I was checking, and I think, ‘Oh my God, what's this?’ And then I got this email saying that it came from HireSmart. I said, ‘Oh my God, thank you so much!’”

Richan and her husband have three children — two teens and a toddler. She said Dec. 16, 2021, the day of Typhoon Rai, was horrifying.

“We were really frightened that day,” she said. “I think it was the scariest day of my life. I was thinking if the roof gets ripped off, where could we go after that.”

The family huddled in their home that night as the typhoon tore off part of their roof. They survived the storm, but there was considerable damage to the roof, which became evident as water leaked into the house during the storm.

Richan, who worked in an Australian-based software company for 12 years, has been with HireSmart for nearly four years.

She said she is thrilled to work at home and care for her family, who she says is a tight-knit crew.

“My oldest is in his first year of college, and he's taking up nursing,” said Richan, whose youngest child is 2. “And the second one is in senior high school. They both love to dance and sing.”

Richan said HireSmart is a great place to work because it helps families spend time together and supports families when they’re hit with hard times, such as a typhoon.

“They (HireSmart) were concerned and checking in to see how we were doing,” said Richan. “You know somebody cares, and you can count on them. They really are family!”

Althea’s home went dark as the typhoon approached, but by the afternoon, electricity was restored.

“‘Yay, everything is normal,’” said the HireSmart Virtual Employee, who lives in Cebu in the Philippines.

No, not normal — far from it. As night approached, so did a monster.

At 7 p.m., “the drama started.” Typhoon Rai (also known as Super Typhoon Odette) began to howl.

“I haven’t experienced (a tornado or cyclone), but it sounded like it,” said Althea.

“You hear alarms of the cars, because they’re hit by a tree, hit by a roof.”

The raging storm shattered the windows in Althea’s home while she, her husband, and two daughters, who were 8 and 5 at the time, huddled under the stairs in their row house. Althea tried to calm her daughters, though she felt frantic herself.

“My daughter was really terrified,” she said. “She was crying all the time, and I didn’t know how to calm her because I was not calm myself.”

The storm lasted all night. Althea said the worst winds came at two-hour intervals.

“We were just waiting for when our roof will be blown away, literally waiting,” she said.

At 5:30 a.m., the storm had passed. Luckily, Althea and her family survived without injury, and her home’s roof didn’t fly away. Others weren’t so lucky.

“When we open our door at around 5:30 a.m., it’s hard to imagine what I saw,” she said. “I really thought, ‘I’ll be seeing that on TV, on the news.’ You would see a car on top of another car. And all the roofs are gone. Trees are uprooted. All electricity is out. It was that destructive.”

Althea admits she hadn’t been too concerned about the approaching typhoon.

“In Cebu, we have a couple of typhoons in a year, but nothing that strong,” she said “So our mentality was like, ‘Oh, there’s a storm coming. It’s OK. There will probably be a blackout maximum of three days.’ We were not prepared for a super typhoon.”

She hadn’t expected the storm’s fury or the subsequent 29 days without electricity.

“We didn’t have electricity, no potable water,” said Althea. “It’s so hard to get gasoline. My husband went to a gasoline station at three in the morning and returned home at 11 a.m. without being able to get gasoline. The line is so long. So, you cannot travel.”

“I was really worried that I would not have any work to go back to,” she said. “I was not able to communicate with HireSmart or my client as the land lines and internet were out and cellphones had no signal as cellular towers were damaged.”

In the U.S., Anne Lackey, who owns HireSmart Virtual Employees with her husband Mark, had been frantically trying to make sure Althea was OK.

“Anne was really worried because I was one of the last agents who were able to contact HireSmart,” said Althea.

But when the connection was made, Anne and Mark delivered a considerable sum of money to the typhoon victim to help her family. Althea’s property management client also paid her in advance a full month’s salary, even though she was only able to work three days during that time. 

“That money went a long way,” said Althea, who said she used HireSmart’s gift to replace the shattered windows in their home. “I never experienced that in any of the companies I’ve worked. I didn’t expect I’d be able to have work by the time I went back, but both HireSmart and my clients are very understanding. They totally understood where we are coming from.”

Althea said working at HireSmart has been great for her family, allowing her to care for her children.

“When I learned I was pregnant, I told myself I would not be working away from my child,” she said. “So, it helps a lot because I’m able to raise my kids while earning.”

She said HireSmart is the place to be.

“I’m just thankful for what this company did to help us,” said Althea. “My heart is full being part of this team.”

Leah and her three kids were preparing for Christmas, not a typhoon, in December 2021.

“We were thinking this will be the first Christmas after the pandemic that the church will be open,” she said. “The kids are on vacation and excited. We have plans and hotel reservations for a Christmas-break vacation.”

December 16 is the start of Simbang Gabi, a devotional, nine-day series of Masses attended by Filipino Catholics in anticipation of Christmas.

“It should be the first day of the glorious celebration,” said Leah.

But December 16 was far from festive. Typhoon Rai (also known as Super Typhoon Odette) slammed into Cebu that night.

“There was an announcement that there will be a huge storm coming,” said Leah. “But sometimes it’s a bluff.”

No bluff this time. Odette was for real, causing widespread destruction.

“The sound of the wind was so scary,” she said. “No one can sleep. My bedroom is facing the street and we have a big, sliding glass door leading to the terrace, and I can see what’s happening outside. My biggest fear is there’s a big lamppost, an electricity post, and it’s literally shaking, and if it falls to my terrace, it will destroy the door, and I don’t know if we’re all going to die.”

Thankfully, Leah, her three kids — 17, 16 and 5 — and their dog and cat weren’t harmed in the storm.

And the main portion of her house survived the wind assault, but Leah’s kitchen extension, where she cooks spicy foods away from the living areas, wasn’t so lucky. The roof of that extension was ripped off.

“We were trying to find the roof, but we don’t know where it went,” she said.

Though the skies cleared, Leah’s ordeal was far from over. The HireSmart Virtual Employee, who works for a property management company in the U.S., had no electricity, no internet, no water. Her home didn’t get these back for a month.

“I needed to check into a hotel,” she said. “So I drove the whole city the entire day, and I can’t find any vacant rooms. I got frustrated. We camped out in the lobby of a hotel just to get electricity and air conditioning. After a typhoon it gets really dry. There’s no air. I have a toddler who gets so irritated if it gets hot.”

She heard electricity was restored in the northern part of Cebu.

“So I took the risk of driving three hours going there, and I found a hotel to check in,” said Leah. “It’s a resort hotel, and it’s kind of pricey, because the law of supply and demand.”

She was then able to communicate with HireSmart Virtual Employees and her client.

“We were running out of funds, because it (the hotel stay) was not budgeted,” she said.

But Leah’s stress level dropped dramatically when Anne and Mark Lackey, co-founders of HireSmart Virtual Employees responded with money to cover her hotel expenses. Leah didn’t realize HireSmart Cares would have her back in that way. It was unusual in the working world.

“It was really unexpected,” she said. “I know they’re going to understand what happened, but there’s a fine line between sympathy and empathy. You can have sympathy as in, ‘I’m sorry that happened to you.’ But then there’s the empathy of, ‘What are they needing?’ I’m lucky to have both from HireSmart.”

For Leah, the Christmas of 2021 wasn’t what she wanted or expected. But she did experience the warmth of a special gift that season.

“They feel for us, but they also offered help,” she said of HireSmart. “They value us. They could have just left us with nothing.”

Leah said HireSmart made sure its employees hit by the typhoon understood one important message.

“Take care of yourself and your family first, and we have it covered,” she said.

After the storm hit with terrible fury, Olga soon learned she was not alone.

A resident of Barili, Cebu, Olga was among the many Filipinos affected by the catastrophic Typhoon Odette that hit the Philippines on December 16, 2021. The major storm wreaked havoc on her hometown, completely destroying her house.

Olga and her family were without electricity for three months and without internet for a month. The typhoon disrupted the delivery of essential goods and services, leaving Olga and her family without access to food and water.

Olga, who works for HireSmart Virtual Employees, which links virtual assistants from the Philippines with U.S. businesses, faced significant challenges communicating with her clients and colleagues. She had to travel over four hours to get to the nearest city with network reception to update her U.S. client and the HireSmart team.

However, when Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Virtual Employees, found out about her situation, they immediately extended their help through their non-profit organization, HireSmart Cares. They provided funds to repair Olga's house and sent a generator to provide electricity. She also received her salary in advance so she could buy groceries and water from the city and take them to the province where she lived.

According to Olga, HireSmart went beyond its duties as her employer. They were constantly checking up on her and offering assistance.

"They were very considerate that I may not be able to get in touch with them right away," Olga said. "They were emailing and messaging me through Skype to check if there is anything they can help me with for my family to survive the devastation of the typhoon."

For Olga, HireSmart is more than just an employer. They have become her family, offering her the support and care she needs during the most challenging times of her life.

"I found my family here at HireSmart," said Olga. "They always make sure they are able to extend help when needed. This is what I was looking for from my previous jobs — being treated as part of a family. It is more than just improving my life."

When Typhoon Rai (also known as Typhoon Odette) hit the Philippines in December 2021, a number of HireSmart Virtual Employees felt the pain, suffering damage to their homes and a sharp deterioration in their living conditions. But HireSmart Cares, the non-profit philanthropic arm of the HireSmart team, quickly let the storm victims know they weren’t alone, offering assistance in a variety of ways to help employees get their lives back. Here’s Bernard’s story:

Bernard and his wife Boni prepared for the approaching typhoon. They filled up their generator and stocked up on supplies and batteries. Then they waited. The morning of Typhoon Odette in the Philippines shortly before Christmas in 2021 was very calm.

Bernard and his wife, who live in Cebu, carried on with their normal routine, which involves working for U.S. clients as virtual employees for HireSmart Virtual Employees. They cared for their 6-year-old daughter and made sure the family dog was walked and fed.

But then the sun went down.

“At nighttime, it went bang,” said Bernard.

The wind howled, the roof rattled, and trees broke apart. Bernard worried about the rising water in a river that was only a few feet from his home.

“We were afraid of the upstairs,” he said. “Maybe the roof would fall off or fly off. And basically, we stayed downstairs. My daughter slept through the whole thing, no problem at all. My wife kept bugging me, asking me to check to see if the internet is back. We have a generator, so we were good in terms of the electricity, but she was like, check the internet and see if it comes back, we need to go back to work.”

The house withstood the storm’s punch. But when the sun rose, Bernard walked outside.

“Devastation everywhere,” he said. “There was a lot of clutter and property damage.”

Power poles were down and blocking the roads. There was no electricity, no internet.

“We had to wait for the electric company to try and lift the posts up so that people can drive by,” he said. “That was really a thing that hit me, oh my God, this is going to be big. This is not going to last like a week. This is going to be a whole month thing or something like that before everything gets fixed.”

On a typical day, Bernard handles administrative work for a solid waste management agency in the U.S. He works out at a gym, walks his dog, and spends time with his daughter. After the storm, the old routines gave way to new ones.

“We have to go to wells, or what they call here a pump, so we go there every morning, wake up at about 2 a.m., get the car, get all of our containers for water, five-gallon containers,” said Bernard. “We go to a spot to get water, we pump it, then go back home. And then afterward, we need to line up for gas. We needed gas for that generator. By the time we’re done with the water around 4, you need to line up for gas, and the line was two or three miles long.”

Bernard said people in his area stuck together, despite the hardship.

“Here in our area, all of us came together,” he said. “We even had people buying foodstuff, and then we’d all cook it in the morning, then we all shared the meal.”

But both Bernard and his wife were desperate to get back to work serving their U.S. clients, and there was no internet service to be found.

Thirteen time zones away, Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Virtual Employees and HireSmart Cares, were getting the news of what was happening in the Philippines. They were busy locating employees who had lost internet service. When contact was made, they inquired about their health and their living conditions: What do you need? How can we help?

In all, HireSmart assisted 31 families, replacing roofs for a number whose homes had suffered major damage, paying for temporary housing, and covering costs of computer equipment and a variety of other needs.

Bernard and his family needed a place to stay that had internet services. So HireSmart paid a month’s rent for an apartment about an hour’s drive north of their home.

“My wife and I are really grateful that we’re here at HireSmart,” said Bernard. “And we know that they always have our back and always support us in the things that we need, especially in times of trouble. Here at HireSmart, Anne basically said we’re all a family. It’s not just like you going to a job with your family at home. People help you when you are in need.”

Bernard said his clients at the solid waste agency were great, too. During the week between the storm and getting an apartment, Bernard was unable to perform his duties for the solid waste company, but the firm paid his salary anyway.

“They’re treating me like part of the family as well,” he said.

Bernard and his family went back to their home after the electricity was restored. But their internet was out for three months.

“Gladly, one of our neighbors has a different connection that was restored prior to all of our other connections,” he said. “So we actually hooked up so we could work.”

He said the typhoon experience was a learning experience.

“The one thing that I learned from it is basically anything like that can happen in your life,” said Bernard. “Bad things can happen in your life, not just a typhoon, maybe a family death. But as long as you have the right people behind you and you have the right mindset to move past it, then you’ll be good. You’re going to be all good, no worries.”