HOUSTON - It's been a little more than a month since one of the most devastating hurricanes in U.S. History tore through Greater Houston. However, there have been thousands of hands, volunteers, helping homeowners bring the city back to a sense of normalcy and taking survivors further into recovery. One of those groups is Recovery Houston.
It all started as what was supposed to be a substitute activity for a wedding party that was postponed because of Hurricane Harvey. Kat Creech was Sarah Samad and Mohsin Dhukka's wedding planner. After the couple decided that they wanted to postpone the Sept. 3 wedding, Creech thought of the idea to organize the couple's wedding guests' activity--volunteering.
"It was really about the idea of taking a bride and a groom and their wedding party into an organized concept," Creech said. "The idea ignited Recovery Houston, and it really allowed for complete strangers to get firsthand - to be able to help," said Creech.
Instead of planning a wedding, she planned relief efforts. Little did she know, she found her passion and that passion would result in incredible growth. Soon 30 wedding guests turned into hundreds of volunteers from all over the country. In her search to find places to help, she ended up organizing her own volunteer organization.
"Being an event planner, we could really answer the question of, 'How do we move people? How do we make sure that we're organized?'" Creech said.
She and two other volunteers, whom she found during her initial quest to help, Kim Comer and Jason Fajkus, founded Recovery Houston, a volunteer organization that helps connect homeowners and survivors with volunteers who will help them clean up.
Volunteers gutting home. Organizers say the # of volunteers has dwindled after Harvey. Many people still need help @KPRC2 #HoustonStrong pic.twitter.com/Cua9pxMZIp — Rose-Ann Aragon KPRC (@RAragonKPRC2) September 26, 2017
"If we can find just one person and make their world normal--then we did a good deed," Creech said. "It is really hard to believe that we are in fourth post week of Harvey, and we are still out every single day thanks to our amazing volunteers."
Recovery Houston has already gutted more than 200 homes and has mobilized more than 1,000 volunteers. The organization has made significant growth, however, Creech had noticed something troublesome.
Bryan Wesley, a volunteer who also works for Harvey Builders, and a new team of Recover Houston volunteers went to the home of West Houston resident Jean Hickox. Hickox was at a loss when she lost her brother, and was stranded in Houston after the storm, and could not attend his funeral in London. She then came home to find her house flooded. She lost almost everything.
"I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it," Hickox said.
Hickox got connected with Recovery Houston. Soon, she was in disbelief in a positive way. Friday, there were a handful of volunteers taking out her furniture, tearing up floors and walls.
"I cried. I'm kind of really choked up about it," Hickox said. "I'm just at a loss for words. It's very difficult to explain how it feels to see people doing that much to help you."
Hickox shed tears of joy.
"This is just a bunch of volunteers helping individuals," Wesley said.
The organization is looking for volunteers. Creech has been working to connect Recovery Houston with other nonprofit groups.
"Just show up. Bring your hearts. Bring your hands, and we have supplies," Creech said.
"The volunteer pool has definitely dwindled quite a bit-- from where we are-- to where we are today," Creech said.
The organization now relies mostly on out of Houston volunteers and businesses to meet the needs of Harvey survivors, Creech said.
Tuesday more than 100 volunteers from Austin, Dallas, even Palo Alto to spend the day gutting homes.
"Moving appliances, furniture--anything that's been damaged by the water," said volunteer Emily Breigger, an employee for VMware--a Palo Alto based company that encouraged its employees to trade office wear for boots and masks and spend time in Houston than in the office or Austin campus.
100+volunteers from Austin with @VMware partnered w/ #RecoverHouston & #VolunteerHouston to help #Harvey survivors recover after 1mo @KPRC2 pic.twitter.com/ZuVprtdWx9 — Rose-Ann Aragon KPRC (@RAragonKPRC2) September 26, 2017
"It's unlivable. There's bugs everywhere, the food is ruined -- all the cabinets have to come out," said another volunteer, Kam Pirouz.
According to Crisis Cleanup, a help line for Harvey Survivors that helps connect requests with volunteers, there have been 19,548 requests for assistance, 12,920 completed by volunteers, 1,433 in progress and 5195 requests for help unclaimed.
For Yojanis Cacer, a mother of five, who lives in this home, these volunteers are the reason she said she has not given up.
"I'm really grateful that you all came to help us," Cacer said in Spanish.
Organizers just hope that people continue to step up and hope businesses like VMware do the same.
"We need you. 100% we need your hearts and hands," Creech said.
Saturday, Sept. 9, Recovery Houston will be hosting its largest effort yet. They will have start times at 9 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Volunteers should meet there. No experience is necessary.
The headquarters is located at 398 Garden Oaks Blvd., 77018.
Volunteer hotline: 832-548-0974
Harvey survivor hotline: 936-931-8098
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