Houston, TX, USA. 28th Dec, 2014. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt #99 celebrates his first quarter sack during the NFL football regular season finale between the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars from NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. Credit: csm/Alamy Live News

Reconstructing Houston one house at a time

3 mins read

When major disasters strike, some professional athletes like J.J. Watt use their platforms to provide aid.

After Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city of Houston, it left a profound impact filled with pain and misery for the inhabitants of the metro nicknamed Magnolia City. With flooded areas, destroyed homes, and over 80 Houstonians dead, efforts to rebuild were expected to be both costly and long.

Brooke Lewis, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a native Houstonian, posted on Twitter a collection of vignettes written about the personal accounts of people who went  through Harvey. They told stories about the challenges they experienced  during and after the superstorm.

One year ago, a glimmer of hope shone in the form of J.J. Watt, a defensive end for the NFL team, the Houston Texans. His tireless efforts and many business hours resulted in him raising $37 million for relief organizations and programs geared towards providing assistance to Harvey’s victims.

Four initiatives shared the money raised. Americares, Feeding America, SBP and Save the Children split $30.15 million over the next 18 to 24 months, with the remaining $7 million to be set aside for distribution in 2018 as workers continue to assess relief efforts,” explained Houston Press journalist Joseph Fanelli.

The plan for the four-way division assisted each organization to provide a necessary component to help stabilize communities ruined by natural disasters.

Whereas, Americares  administers immediate medical relief for the injured and sick, Feeding America gives food and water from food banks across the nation. For the charity work of Save the Children, it arranges educational programs that help continue schooling for children in disaster areas.

While the other three organizations focus on furnishing everyday necessities, SBP, reconstructs the homes of people who cannot afford to rebuild. The overall goal is to help them move back into the neighborhood to regain a sense of normalcy.

Another part of their work is to help teach and advise people on how to prepare and what to do should they ever encounter fall victim to another natural disaster, involving other organizations to help guide and fund programs to ensure that if another storm like Harvey ever hit again, they will be prepared.


Homes in Houston after Hurricane Harvey took on several feet of water. SBP works to restore them.

Founded after Hurricane Katrina, SBP’s mission is to “shrink the time between disaster and recovery,” explained Zack Rosenberg, the organization’s chief executive operator.

Through their work, over 1500 homes have been rebuilt nationwide. Before their efforts in Houston, SBP’s endeavors took them to San Marcos and the Jersey Shore.

According to Cli Roberts, executive director of SBP’s Houston operations, “SBP was given $8.5 million dollars from the funds J.J. Watt raised. 3.5 of that went to rebuilding the first 100 homes that were rebuilt by SBP. The rest of the money has been granted out to other rebuilding organizations to help bring aid to other areas.”

SPB, with the contribution of the other local and national construction organizations ,are still working on the repair of least 200 homes throughout the locally affected area. However, even with the work that contributions, Houston is still a long way from being back on its feet.

According to a survey conducted by the Episcopal Health Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation, “African Americans, and the lowest income people and those who live in the Beaumont-Port Arther-Orange area are the ones who responded that they are the least likely to be back to normal,” said Elena Marks, CEO of Episcopal Health.

And with summer coming to a close soon, according to executive director Roberts, “as people start going back to school and work after vacation, there is a lot less volunteers, making it hard for those who are still around to keep up.”

However, even when facing such stressful dilemmas, the SBP is not short on moral obligations. Fellow SBP volunteer and Americorps member Colby Williams was able to connect with natural disaster victims because, like them, he had also suffered the wrath of mother nature in the form of Hurricane Katrina.

“When I talk to a homeowner and they get to know my side of the story, we get closer, forming a kind of bond. I tell them that there is really is light at the end of the tunnel and that things are going to get better real soon,” said Williams

In spite of the challenges, the work SBP is doing alleviates the stress for some Hurricane Harvey victims, and is helping stitch lives back together.

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Pedro Guarin is a junior reporter that focuses on sports. The story is part of the Ark Republic’s inaugural major collaborative project, the Hurricane Trifiecta: One Year Later.


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