The Sunday before Labor Day was supposed to be the wedding day of Sugar Land couple Sarah Samad and Mohsin Karedia and the conclusion of three days of fun with family and friends. Garden Oaks event planner Kat Creech was enlisted to help them with their celebration. Of course, Hurricane Harvey had something to say about that – but he didn’t get the last word.
The wedding postponed until November, the couple and Creech had another idea – a recovery initiative in honor of the deferred nuptials. Creech, who volunteered at the George R. Brown Convention center and had gotten a firsthand look at the vast needs of flood victims, floated the idea of matching volunteers with families in need of help with their home repair and demolition work to several relief organizations at the center.
“I realized there were a lot of hearts and hands but not enough resources and structure for what I wanted to do,” said Creech. “The work of tearing out drywall and insulation and getting contaminated items out of the homes needs to be done quickly because people are staying there.”
Through networking, Creech linked up with Kim Comer, a retiree with a large network of contacts and a passion for service and Jason Fajkus, a sales manager GTX Productions in Garden Oaks who had been in the field cleaning houses with friends and offered to share his office space because he wanted to grow the recovery efforts.
Together the three formed Recovery Houston, an initiative to give volunteers an opportunity to come together to create a movement of helping others.
Recovery Houston got a Facebook group together on Thursday night and word started circulating. On Friday, four teams assembled at 398 Garden Oaks Blvd – otherwise known as command central – and completed work on six houses. Supplies and money started coming in. On Saturday, nine teams completed work on 35 homes. On Sunday, 12 teams completed work on 24 homes and on Monday, 20 teams worked on 28 homes. All in all, more than 300 volunteers have helped nearly 100 homeowners.
“I’ve cried more in the last four days than I’ve done in a long time,” said Creech. “It’s amazing how people are lifting each other up. We’ve had couples, individuals, and families volunteer, professional groups, workout groups. We’ve had people drive in from Austin and New Orleans. These neighborhoods we go to are devastated. We take a moment, hug each other, and go to work.”
Recovery Houston has served homes in Dickenson, Rosharon, Katy, Humble, Kingwood and Bellaire. Homeowners call or connect online with headquarters, who then works to get a team out to their home.
The homeowners and the workers are strangers at the beginning of the day, and something much more by the end.
“My parents flooded twice in my childhood home after I moved out and I know the stress and utter hopelessness one feels when you lose so much,” said Cara Ramelow who has been volunteering with Recovery Houston. “The two homeowners I’ve had the privilege of working for this weekend were elderly and not able bodied with one currently fighting cancer. Neither had friends or family to help. They were extremely grateful to us and felt more helpful by the time we left. I’m so honored to work in their homes and made a point to tell them so.”
Fear of being taken advantage of is a concern for some homeowners who are reluctant to ask strangers for help. Creech said that one such family, who was reluctant to have them come out, later texted to say it was one of the best decisions they made, as a nurse happened to be on the Recovery Houston team at their house and recognized that a family member needed immediate medical attention at a hospital.
“It’s great to have an idea ignite,” said Creech of the effort. Currently, the founders are trying to figure out how to make the organization more sustainable now that many volunteers are being called back to their paying jobs.
“I have 40 homes that currently need help,” said Creech. “This is not just going to be a weekend thing. It will take weeks, months.”
To be part of the effort, see Recovery Houston on Facebook.