Susan Kinchen’s home on Meadow Lane in Hitchcock was swamped six months ago when Hurricane Harvey’s floods pushed 2 feet of water into it. She had to climb through a window to escape because pressure prevented her from opening the door.
On Tuesday, Kinchen’s house was full again, but with volunteers working diligently to rebuild her home from floor to ceiling.
The plan was to get her back into her home by the end of the month.
“I am beyond excited,” Kinchen said about the group of eight that were in the home. “I just feel so humbled and so blessed. If they can’t cheer your heart, there’s something wrong with your heart.”
This week, during the first spring break since Hurricane Harvey, thousands of volunteers have come to Galveston County and surrounding areas to participate in what one group is calling the largest volunteer effort of its kind in U.S. history.
The volunteer effort was organized by the 4B Disaster Response Network, a local faith-based relief group organized after Harvey made landfall, and by Eight Days of Hope, a national Christian nonprofit group that organizes mission trips.
Aaron Sanders, a pastor at Galveston’s Coastal Community Church and a member of the disaster network board, said efforts to organize a large volunteer surge had been underway since the days immediately after Hurricane Harvey.
“This is the largest home rebuild ever in U.S. history,” Sanders said. “There’s never been anything on this scale. We dream big.”
Owners of about 1,500 homes have signed up with the network for assistance, Sanders said. Volunteers will be working in every city in the county over the next two weeks.
The work includes everything from installing cabinets and flooring to mucking out homes that haven’t been touched since Harvey, to making repairs to a Little League field in Dickinson.
The volunteers include skilled laborers, who can do things such as installing wiring and cabinets, Sanders said. The less skilled, but equally willing, have plenty of other work to do.
The volunteers include groups and people from 47 states and three countries, Sanders said.
Myles VanTimmeren and his girlfriend drove 20 hours from Coopersville, Mich., to participate in the work week. A subcontractor by trade, he said he felt compelled by his faith to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“I didn’t really have an excuse to not come,” VanTimmeren said. “It was the worst hurricane in my lifetime; it was complete devastation. These people needed help.”
Other volunteers came from closer by.
Josh Porter, a junior at Texas A&M University at Galveston, was using his spring break from classes to volunteer. He thought the volunteer work was worth missing out on some relaxation time.
“I want to be around people that are positive influences and help me to get in the right mindset getting back into the school year,” Porter said.
The network hopes to have repairs done to some 600 homes by the end of the two-week spring break period, Sanders said. But the group also anticipates hosting volunteer groups to do Hurricane Harvey repair work for years to come.