Rebuilding Hope in Houston

Habitat Hammers Back — One Home at a Time

A sink and a stove, that’s what Tiesha Waddy missed most after Hurricane Harvey destroyed her Houston area home last August.

Waddy, whose home is in Arcola, Texas, a Houston suburb, said after her home was destroyed what she missed most was having her family together and cooking for them.

“I’m most excited about my kitchen,” she said, while still waiting for the project to be finished. “Being able to cook and have the family home and being able to bond in the kitchen area, that just means so much.”

To help Waddy, and many other hurricane victims like her, Habitat for Humanity and John Deere teamed up and launched a project called Habitat Hammers Back. Their goal is to renovate or rebuild homes destroyed by three hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast in 2017 — hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

John Deere committed $1 million to the cause and John Deere employees, including those from Deere dealerships, volunteered to help.

“After these hurricanes, our hearts and minds were with the people of Texas and Florida, and we wanted to give back in a meaningful way,” said Mara Downing, director of Global Brand Management and Corporate Citizenship at Deere. “We thought a partnership with Habitat for Humanity was the best opportunity for us to do that.

“This partnership will change the lives of hurricane victims by rebuilding their homes and rebuilding their lives.”

Mike Martin, construction manager for the Fort Bend Habitat for Humanity in Stafford, Texas, was the project manager on the Waddy’s home. He said the home was in worse condition than anticipated, which meant it needed significantly more renovation than expected.

When Waddy said what she wanted most was a functioning kitchen to cook for her family, Martin understood just how important the rebuild was to the family.

“There were a lot of things she could ask for,” he said, “but she said she just really needed a sink, someplace to wash her dishes. That really just set the tone for the project.”

Unexpected Devastation

Like many in the area, Waddy said she did not expect Hurricane Harvey to devastate her community to the extent it did. When the storm hit, she was in Dallas. Afterward, Waddy’s neighborhood was under water, and she was unable to return home for over a week.

“When I walked into the house, it was like a shipwreck,” she recalled. “You look around and go through your things, but there’s nothing that could be salvaged. I just took a breath, locked the door, and left. I went back to the hotel room and just laid there thinking of a plan that will work for my family.”

Eight months after the storm, the Waddy family was still living on the second floor of their two-story home because the first floor was full of mold and damage. Making matters worse, Waddy’s husband had major health problems, which were exacerbated by their living conditions.

“Living here all my life, I’ve never seen anything like this happen,” said Terrance Dukes, Waddy’s son. “We have many storms, but they never get to our house. So when they actually got to our house, it was really traumatizing.”

Rebuilding their Dreams

Tammy Lee, division sales manager for Deere, worked on the Waddy home with a team of volunteers. She said they worked on everything from digging out flower beds to removing chain link fencing.

“My experience with this family has been absolutely amazing,” she said. “It’s hard to even fathom how they keep going, much less functioning, and continuing to improve and have such a positive outlook despite everything they’re facing and all the obstacles they had to overcome. I can’t wait to see the final result.”

Over 30 Deere and dealer volunteers have helped rebuild homes damaged by the hurricanes, providing carpentry work, putting in baseboards, painting, and landscaping.

“I wasn’t surprised to see John Deere employees rolling up their sleeves and getting wet and dirty, doing whatever it took to get the work done. Not surprised by it, but always proud to see it,” said Cory Reed, President of John Deere Financial.

And there are more homes being rebuilt through the Habitat and John Deere partnership. As for the Waddys, the family moved into their rebuilt home in June.

“People don’t have to be nice to you,” Teisha Waddy said. “People don’t have to be kind to you. They make choices. And that makes a difference. So, I’m very grateful and humbled. Thank you.”

John Deere Dealerships Rise Above Hurricane’s Aftermath

The wrath of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction last fall did not discriminate between homes and businesses.

John Deere dealerships in the Houston area, including Brookside Equipment Sales and Shoppa’s Farm Supply, suffered massive destruction to some of their locations.

“The devastation was just … epic. It truly is unlike anything this area has ever seen; it’s so widespread,” said Roland Orsak, advertising and marketing director for Shoppa’s Farm Supply.

Adam Bielamowicz, branch manager for Brookside Equipment Sales, said one of his locations was flooded with about four to five feet of water.

“It was devastating,” Bielamowicz said. “I think just about everything inside — from the equipment to the inventory to the furniture to the walls — couldn’t be salvaged.”

The Brookside team worked diligently to get back up and running. “In a week’s time we actually had the facility open to help our customers, who were also flooded and needed generators repaired and service work,” said Tom Bielamowicz, president and general manager, Brookside Equipment Sales.

Once both dealerships were accessible, there was another problem. They were understaffed because employees were taking care of their own families and neighbors in the wake of massive flooding.

President and owner of Shoppa’s Farm Supply, Chris Shoppa, saw firsthand how his employees suffered the hurricane’s effects. About 20 percent of his employees experienced some form of damage to their homes, ranging from minimal to severe.

Six out of eight of Shoppa’s locations were inaccessible for about a week due to flooding and power outages. But during that week Shoppa said his dealership decided to continue to pay employees their normal salary for a 40-hour work week.

The dealers’ efforts to quickly get back up and running as well as Deere employees’ immediate response to the devastation enabled the dealerships to help their communities.

“Until you go through an event like this, you don’t really understand what (the Deere partnership) means,” Shoppa added.

One Brookside Equipment Sales location alone lost over 100 pieces of equipment due to flood damage. John Deere Financial worked with the dealership to purchase back all the flood damaged equipment. They then donated that equipment to agriculture technical schools in the Houston area. These schools offer a two-year Associate’s Degree for students to become professionally trained technicians to support customers through Deere dealerships.

“It’s great that we have all this newer equipment for our students to learn on,” said Tammy Lee, division sales manager for John Deere.

“Hopefully, technicians are going to learn from all that equipment,” added Tom Bielamowicz “I know there’s a big need for that. I’ll take my hat off with John Deere and say we were glad to be a part of that project.”

For those interested in helping to continue the rebuild of Hurricane Harvey, Martin said the best form of support is through providing funds to Habitat for Humanity so they can purchase the necessary supplies to finish projects.

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Rebuilding Hope in Houston

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