July 25, 2018
AJ DeLaGarza wanted to do more as he recovered from knee surgery than rehab and workout. In the 8 months since injuring his ACL, the Houston Dynamo defender decided to spend more time in his community, and on July 21, he was one of more than 2 dozen volunteers helping to rehab a Houston home damaged by Hurricane Harvey last year.
DeLaGarza was among the volunteers from the Dynamo and FC Dallas, the teams' fan support clubs, the St. Bernard Project and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) students and staff who donned full-body protective equipment and spent the morning scrubbing mold from the studs and framing of the home, then spraying a cleaning solution throughout the first floor of the building.
The work is part of a project to rehabilitate the home that, until a week ago, still had the moldering drywall in place. Within 2 months, it will be one of roughly 50 Houston-area homes rebuilt and repaired by the St. Bernard Project (SBP), a nonprofit agency founded in 2006 in St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Cli Roberts, executive director of SBP's Houston office, said the group's work is only possible with support from volunteers.
"This is really important," she said. "Without volunteers coming out 6 months after, a year after, we can't get these families home. It's really important having so many people come through Houston ... and helping us."
In the brutal Houston heat, the volunteer crews scrubbed and cleaned and heard from the home's owner, Deandrea Gregoire, who inherited the home in northeast Houston from her parents and lives there with her son Diceros. Since the home is not in a floodplain, the Gregoires did not have flood insurance and also did not receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). After spending some time with friends, the Gregoires had to move back into the home, and breathing the polluted air caused significant health problems. Before connecting with SBP, "she didn't really know where to go," said Tamara Sherrod, SNHU's partnership marketing program manager.
"It's really exciting for them that basically within 2 months, they'll be back in the house," she said.
The project brought together SNHU and SBP, as well as on-field rivals FC Dallas and the Dynamo, and was held in conjunction with the first of three matches between the teams, dubbed the Texas Derby. FC Dallas forward Brian Reynolds was joined on the project by teammate Kyle Zobeck. He said the rivalry stays on the pitch.
"On the field we're rivals, but off the field, I see everyone as family," he said.
FC Dallas and the city of Dallas have been supporting Houston since Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017, Dynamo Director of Community Relations and Dynamo Charities Valerie Holland.
"It's great to see that people from Dallas understand what we went through," she said. "They were supportive back in August when the hurricane hit and it's great to see that they continue it a year later with us."
Melissa Bair, executive director of the FC Dallas Foundation, said she hoped the project not only helped the rebuild of the Gregoires' home but also showed them that their community cares about them.
"The biggest thing is that they don't think they're alone and that they know people gave of their time, their energy, their efforts to come and help them out," she said. "Lots of times in disasters, there's that very lonely feeling, and I want this mother and her son to know that there are people that care and wanted to come and do what they could to help her."
Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.
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