650 volunteers travel to Houston to 'beautify' elementary school hit by Hurricane Harvey

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

More than 600 volunteers from all over the country traveled to a Houston elementary school hit by Hurricane Harvey. 

The 650 volunteers' goal was to “beautify” the outside of Hilliard Elementary School in East Houston so that the school’s 600 displaced students would have a beautiful school to come back to next fall.

PHOTOS: Volunteers beautify Hillard Elementary School

"It's an unbelievable sight," said Kristen Mikhael, a Houston-based employee of NuMotion, a wheelchair and mobility company, the company that sent 650 of its employees to volunteer.

NuMotion partnered with Recovery Houston, a nonprofit organization formed after Harvey, to get help directly to the people who needed it.

“The sheer volume of having that many hearts and hands could be overwhelming to some, but I love to move large groups and break them into smaller pods that are manageable,” said Kat Creech, Recovery Houston's CEO.

Twelve coach buses brought the volunteers to the school. 

They divided up into 30 groups, each with an assignment -- building an outdoor classroom, garden and play area, or plant the 3,000 shrubs and 300 trees, which were donated.

“We partnered with BrightView, which is the largest landscaping manufacturer in the nation, along with OJB, which is a landscape architect. They came on board and philanthropically -- pro bono -- gave us their advice, their education on what we should plant, where we should plant and how we should plant them,” Creech said.

"Our objective today is to help beautify this school," said Rusty Hamilton, a NuMotion volunteer from Salem, Oregon.

“The school was devastated. We lost the entire building, which includes supplies, which includes furniture. Whatever you can think of that was inside the school -- it was lost,” said the school's principal, Edrick Moultry.

While the students are at a temporary school, next year they will return. The building is being renovated and now the outside will be too.

"We still have hearts and hands coming into this city, and we still have a lot of work to do. I think that's an important message to share," Creech said.

In three hours, volunteers put together and painted benches for an outdoor picnic area, painted cement asphalt games like hop scotch and tic-tac-toe.

"They kids need to be outside, too, and they need their lunch tables and their lovely garden to sit in," Hamilton said.

“It's just nice to give back and help these kids come back to somewhere they can be proud of,” said Doug Burton, a Nashville volunteer.

For Houstonian Kristen Mikhael whose family was affected by Harvey, it was an emotional day.

“Five months later, we are still recovering,” Mikhael said.

Seeing all the volunteers from her work helping these student, made her smile.

"My heart is full. I'm happy today. We're Houston. We got through this,” Mikhael said.

"For them to see all of this is just going to get them even more excited about being at school," Moultry said.