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UH CARES Assists Houston Residents Post-Harvey

by Daniel Wallace

Many weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall and stalled over southeast Texas, buffeting the region with record-shattering rains and historic flooding, Houston is still recovering from one of the worst weather disasters in U.S. history, and the UH community has launched a huge volunteer effort to help repair our city and to offer assistance to those whose homes and whose lives have been upended by the catastrophic storm.  UH CARES, Cougar Assisted Relief Efforts, was created to mobilize UH volunteers into strategic work teams and to bring the resources of the entire UH family to a city that still needs help.  The program is open to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the University.     

“We saw an opportunity for a collaboration that could include students, faculty, and alumni from any college,” writes Dr. Bill Monroe, Dean of the Honors College and one of the organizing committee members of UH CARES.  “We have been organizing and deploying teams of volunteers based on academic and co-curricular affiliations across the campus.”     

Nesibe Tiryakioglu, a UH senior and public informations officer for UH CARES, was involved in the programs’s early formation.  “We assembled teams based on college affiliation, majors, interests in organizations, and availability, and those teams started taking on volunteer efforts, organizing work crews, setting up vanpools, and identifying homes in need of repair.  More recently, we have created a leadership council of student captains.”

One of those captains, Khalid Sheikh—a senior Biology major and Honors student at UH—described a recent outing with UH CARES.  It was a blue-skied, early Saturday morning in the beginning of October, and a group of 25 volunteers carpooled to Bear Creek Village, a neighborhood in Northwest Houston, not far from the Addicks Reservoir. 

“We worked on two homes,” writes Sheikh.  “One of the homes belonged to Jack Stephens, a Vietnam War veteran who hadn’t had a chance to clean out his home since the flood.  We spent all day there, tearing out six feet of drywall, carpeting, and dismantling the kitchen cabinets.  The home had been wet for a while, so it was completely covered in mold.”

Sheikh’s passion for UH CARES is rooted in his own experience.  “I serve as a captain because my own family was affected by the flood,” he writes.  “And I’ve seen how important teamwork is in the recovery process.  It’ll take a long time for Houston to rebuild, but I’m glad to see how UH students have volunteered their time to help those who need it.”

According to Jeffrey Hong, a Construction Management major at UH and one of five other student captains with UH CARES, today marks 1,000 Hours of clean-up work by over 180 students, faculty, staff, and alumni through UH CAREs.  “Each weekend for the past 7 weeks since Hurricane Harvey, UH CAREs has helped homeowners across the greater Houston area with gutting homes, mold remediation, and bringing hope and help to those who need it the most,” says Hong.   

Volunteers are welcome apply.  They can select college affiliations, such as NSM or the McGovern College of the Arts, service groups such as the Bonner Leaders, academic interest groups such as Medicine and Society, or campus organizations such as the Metropolitan Volunteer Program—or they can ask to be placed where needed.  More information is available at the Honors College or at the UH CARES website.