Hurricane Harvey: One Year of Recovery and Reflection

Posted on August 23, 2018

Harvey. The mention of this word triggers a twinge of fear in most who suffered the devastating effects of this storm. It flooded many parts of our region with some areas receiving peak rain totals of 47 inches of rain over a 4-day period.

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Harris County had over 154,000 homes flood. Yet many who have actively engaged in helping this region recover, whether it’s by volunteering or partnering with BakerRipley, use words like grateful, inspiring, resilient and teamwork to describe their experience as they reflect back on this unprecedented storm.

One year has passed and the recovery is still ongoing; being there for our neighbors remains our top priority! Over the past eleven months, BakerRipley has worked with more than 5,400 households through our disaster case management program to aid in their recovery. BakerRipley neighbors Emad Turki, Amber Kirkland and Linda Jerrols live on opposite sides of town, one in Spring, Texas, one in Conroe, TX and the other in Fort Bend County, yet they share a common bond – their strength to get them through tough times.

“Hurricane Harvey caught us off guard. It took us eight months to move back into our home,” BakerRipley neighbor Emad Turki said. “We couldn’t have done it without BakerRipley and the one-on-one attention and emotional support our case manager provided. I’m so grateful for the bathroom and kitchen restorations. BakerRipley gave us something to smile about and gave us our life back!”

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Our work in long-term recovery started on August 29, 2017 at the NRG Center Shelter. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called on BakerRipley in a time of need to open the shelter and we stepped up to answer that call.

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We had no idea how many people would show up at the shelter, nor did we understand the how crucial social media would become during this desperate time.

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During our 25-day deployment at the NRG Center Shelter, approximately 24,000 volunteers dedicated their time to help their fellow neighbors at the shelter. Volunteers were a key part of the success in assisting Houston. So many people showed up when we announced the NRG Center Shelter opening on August 29, 2017, the lines wrapped around the building with people wanting to do their part. Our volunteers were a key part in serving over 7,400 shelter guests from 110 different cities in Texas. One of those volunteers, Mark E. Steiner, worked around the clock to organize and distribute the mountains of donated baby supplies at the NRG Center.

Many of our partners answered our call to help our neighbors from Barrio Dogs providing kennels for pets to CVS and Walgreens partnering to set up an on-site pharmacy for guests. H-E-B became our first hero. H-E-B CEO, Scott McClelland, visited the shelter and within hours the H-E-B trucks rolled in and served our guests food for the first 36 hours of operation. The YMCA partnered with us to provide childcare in the “Kids Zone” for short-term and long-term assistance. The unity witnessed during this time will never be forgotten; our shared humanity was on full display every day at the shelter.

In the end, volunteers donated over 180,000 hours of their time to help those in need when all was said and done. One of those Houstonians who wanted to make a difference and offer her support to BakerRipley shelter guests is volunteer Tejal Patel.

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We’ve had hundreds of volunteers, like Liza Moskowitz, who participated in neighborhood canvassing events by walking door-to-door for several hours to assess the needs of affected community members.

These unique, grass roots events are aimed at reaching out to hard-hit communities and leaving no home behind. So far, BakerRipley has canvassed over 750 homes in the Gulfton, Greenspoint, Greater Hobby and Edgebrook neighborhoods to educate and engage residents who need either home repairs or some form of financial assistance due to Harvey flood damage.

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Other volunteers spent their time at our six BakerRipley-managed Neighborhood Restoration Centers. These centers are physical locations where residents can connect to resources to help in their recovery. Married couple Enrique and Julia volunteered every day at the BakerRipley Cleveland Campus Neighborhood Restoration Center providing Harvey flood victims with resources and offered emotional support throughout the ordeal.

These centers are in collaboration with the City of Houston and Harris County. The Houston Chronicle checked in with BakerRipley nine months after Harvey and found basic needs are unmet for many people.

Liza Leal is another volunteer who’s been with us since the beginning of Harvey and has given her time at every opportunity because she’s passionate about helping others. She does everything from sorting and distributing basic needs items to connecting neighbors to services necessary to recover.

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Looking back, we now understand the importance of collaboration between private, public and non-profit entities to make a real impact. From September to July, all of our funding came from private dollars. Thanks to partners like the United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Fund for funneling dollars out to relief organizations, like BakerRipley, within a week of the storm so the immediate needs of our region could begin to be met.

Looking ahead, we stay constantly connected with our partnering agencies, like the City of Houston, Harris County, non-profit agencies, private funders, and many more; in order to remain prepared to answer the next call, whenever the next natural disaster hits.

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There’s an old saying, “You are only as good as those you surround yourself with.” This holds true for BakerRipley and its employees. When we jumped in with both feet and opened the NRG Center Shelter, our staff banded together to ensure our shelter guests were provided for in a supportive and appreciative manner.

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As we transitioned from immediate needs at the NRG Center Shelter to long-term recovery efforts, we knew a personalized disaster case management approach would work best to help our neighbors during this difficult time in their lives. Many neighbors we’ve helped recover call their disaster case managers, “their angels.” Our disaster case managers advocate on the behalf of each neighbor and help them navigate the sometimes complicated systems to provide information and referrals as well as offer a human touch and emotional support an individual or family might need to addresses their needs. Over the weeks and months spent working together on such a personal issue, the neighbor’s recovery plan, usually a bond of friendship develops as our disaster case managers hold their hand along their journey to recovery.

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Another way we help our neighbors is through our home restoration program. Shortly after Harvey hit, this program had to be built from the ground up and in the typical appreciative manner that BakerRipley prides itself on. You can choose the Materials-only Restoration that neighbor Mike Spriggs chose for the 92-year old matriarch of his family Stella Overton. There’s also BakerRipley-managed Home Restoration and Homeowner-managed Home Restoration options. Bottom line, the creators of this program wanted people to feel like they had options in how the home is repaired.

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Our partners, funders, volunteers and our staff have been a key part of our success in helping our neighbors recover. We want to take the time to thank each one of you who stepped up to help BakerRipley in various ways, whether it be through your time or through a donation. As a result, each individual, volunteer, staff member, foundation, corporation and agency helped their fellow human during a desperate time. Thanks to you, we can offer various resources to our neighbors. Learn about your impact here.

As we reflect back on Hurricane Harvey one year ago, it’s a story thousands of us lived through together. We all saw lives change in an instant. The road to recovery is long and can be complicated, but it is hopeful. It’s knowing that no matter what lies ahead in the future, neighbors will be there to help neighbors. This city will continue pull together in times of need and remain #HoustonStrong.