Hurricane Harvey, breaking all national flood records and dumping 50 inches of rain over the city, was fierce enough to rewrite Houston’s history and redraw its topography, but it was no match for the spirit and power of the University of Houston community, which unleashed its own arsenal: The power to help, the power to serve the community, the power to come together and make things better.
In every corner of Houston, there was a UH Cougar or alumni—mobilizing, mucking out homes and making the sun shine a little brighter for those who had lost so much in the darkness.
“It was a great example of what we say we are—‘Houston’s university,’” said Honors College Dean William Monroe, who joined almost a dozen fellow deans, faculty, staff and alumni to create UH CARES, which swelled to 200 members almost immediately. Any given day after the flood receded you could find UH CARES students inside damaged homes tearing out mold-covered walls and pulling up buckled flooring, an effort which continues.
“For the University, it means we’re out there integrated into the city in ways that often universities are not,” said Dean Monroe. Ultimately, UH CARES would show Houston that UH does not merely take students in from the city and educate them, but it sends those same students back out to take on the city’s herculean tasks.
JACOB DYLAN TRUE FURRH
The sophomore with four names, and a penchant to serve his community, knows a thing or two about hurricanes. He was 9 when his family lost their Lake Jackson home and all their possessions during Hurricane Ike.
“I can personally relate to people who have lost a home, and that’s a very big deal,” said Furrh. “Once you tell a flood victim that you know how they feel because you, too, have experienced this, they just breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they can actually relate to you.”
Furrh, a student in the Honors College with a double major in environmental sciences and civil engineering, was named in homage to singer Bob Dylan, whose son is Jakob Dylan. His parents added True, because they liked it, he said. Both his mom and dad are lawyers and advocates on behalf of low-income and underserved populations at Lone Star Legal Aid. It’s True, he comes by his desire to help naturally.
When the first rains fell, Furrh did what many of his generation does so well— he took to social media. He created a Facebook group as a hub for volunteers. As the saying goes, “build it and they will come.” And they did. The group is now 1,500 strong.
“The most awestruck moment I had was when I saw other students using the Facebook page to post opportunities to volunteer and to bring in big companies and churches full of people who wanted to help us,” said Furrh.
At the same time he was launching his group, Furrh and fellow Cougars were volunteering at the George R. Brown (GRB) Convention Center, where so many evacuees landed. Furrh recognized mass confusion, with many who didn’t understand their legal rights regarding their homes. It turns out he knew a couple of parents who could help. One not-so minor hitch—the downtown offices of Lone Star Legal Aid had caught fire during the storm, and the lawyers were working from their homes, if they had electricity. Furrh grabbed tables and chairs that survived the fire, took them to the GRB and set up a row of legal clinics.
He’s 19. Important to note that at his age, he’s already set a high bar for himself, but it’s one he intends to jump over one day by pursuing the field of clean water research. “I think I can make a larger-scale difference than in anything else, specifically in water purification and water issues,” said Furrh.
Combating water issues seems to be familiar terrain for him.
Usually on weekends, Kat Creech is orchestrating a luxury Houston wedding or epic event as principal of Kat Creech Events. In fact, she designed and planned a 500-person, three-day wedding event set to take place the weekend after Harvey struck. When the couple decided to postpone, Creech had an idea.
As a 1999 graduate of the UH Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Creech was trained for last-minute changes. She immediately asked her clients if, instead of a wedding ceremony, they would like to join her in storm recovery efforts. They loved the idea and so on the weekend that would have been their wedding, Creech led the couple and 100 of their invited guests through wet and smelly homes, pulling out sheetrock, remediating mold and comforting distraught homeowners.
Not knowing where to send such a large group and unable to find a central organization so quickly, Creech went into full-on party planning mode and formed her own Facebook group, Recovery Houston, with a pop-up command center in Oak Forest. You won’t be surprised to learn the organization now boasts a membership of 4,600, 90 percent of whom are volunteers, and has tackled more than 250 homes.
“I’m so humbled by this movement,” said Creech. “An idea is an idea, but it doesn’t give impact or have growth unless you have a movement behind it. I am incredibly grateful that volunteers continue to give their hearts and hands, seven days a week.”
Creech traces the success of Recovery Houston to her alma mater.
“Without a doubt, the degree from UH and my years of experience that came from that degree have helped me in every capacity possible, to move logistically, mobilize teams and be successful,” she said.
In the end, Creech said she is spending her time in the most meaningful way possible. “We give people hope and try to find their normal,” she said.