In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the devastating flooding that struck the Houston area, HCSS employees wanted to help as quickly as possible.
So Vice President of R&D Michael Bordelon requested $26,000 from CEO Mike Rydin to purchase cleanup supplies to take back to the HCSS offices in Sugar Land to start the demolition and mold remediation process.
“I have a management philosophy that is to always shoot for beyond what you think you can get done,” Bordelon said. “If you can do half of that, it’s still awesome. So in the back of my mind, I was thinking it would really be great if we had 100 people and 30 or 40 hours of work.”
Instead, nearly 1200 HCSS employees and volunteers in the community have cleaned up 163 homes, saving people in Fort Bend County and other areas more than $4 Million to date.
Employees who were available in the weeks following the storm stepped up to volunteer their time cleaning out coworkers’ flooded homes, or the homes of their families, backed by Rydin, who did not require anyone to take paid time off. Then they went out into the Fort Bend County area to begin cleaning the homes of strangers.
“I pictured several feet of water in someone’s house, and I pictured coming back home and seeing a giant mess, not knowing where to start,” Rydin said. “And because of all the massive damage, I thought about how long it might take to get a contractor to fix it and how you might have to live months in temporary housing.
“My goal was to help people clean out their house and get all the stuff out that would result in mold. If you could get all that done, you could perhaps live in the house, and then it wouldn’t be as crucial that you couldn’t get it repaired quickly.”
Facilities Manager Kevin Murphree cleaned more than 10 homes, including his own lake house and his sister’s home. He said he lost 10 pounds in six days of grueling work. As one of the first people to get into and clean up a home, he helped Bordelon build the checklist of supplies that would be needed.
And Truong continued to volunteer cleaning other homes after helping his family.
“At the end of the day, we count our blessings,” he said. “We were fortunate that we had nothing happen [to us, personally]. We had power, we had food, and we have a house we can still live in. So I said, ‘I’m able, let’s go out and help people.’”
HCSS stored all the supplies in the campus basketball court, divided into 10 crews of 20 people.
People from the Sugar Land community helped in the cleanup effort, as did teenagers and families from five area high schools, including Strake Jesuit, where Bordelon’s sons attend and his wife works.
“A lot of people have been able to raise money, like [Texans football star] JJ Watt, who raised millions and millions of dollars,” Bordelon said. “But how much have they been able to mobilize? He’s going to be part of that multi-year recovery story, but we were in the position to be really nimble and highly impactful very quickly.”
Bordelon said the cleanup mission seemed to take on a life of its own shortly after the materials arrived. And there was zero conflict.
In fact, he said, volunteers broke down with emotion when they told some people in need that there would be a wait to get to their houses.
“It’s kind of interesting how when there’s a will behind something, how quickly a thousand people can almost self-organize around a common goal like what we saw here,” he said. “We ended up being an amazing hub for all of this activity. We opened our doors to not only hold all the tools and material we needed to do the work but also as a place for people to come to get organized in the morning before going out to houses. That alone was a huge contribution to making this possible.”
Director of Marketing Operations Kara MacDonald even sent her neighbors to HCSS to pick up supplies. Her neighborhood suffered severe flooding, although her own house managed to stay safe.
“They told me all they needed were supplies, because there were probably a couple hundred people who came into the neighborhood to help them tear things out,” she said. “They said, ‘You were the queen of donations. Your company provided the big stuff, when everyone else was just handing out the little things.’”
Tom Webb, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Customer Solutions, ran the volunteer operation and helped put together teams and coordinate the homes that would be cleaned.
He said volunteers came out from the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce, the Fort Bend Economic Development Council, and the City of Sugar Land, and they were amazed at the contribution from a privately owned company.
“Our employees and what they do with our customers amazes me,” Webb said. “This just proves that it’s their personality. When there is a need, they step into that need. But I was still amazed at the results. We’re a bunch of geeks. We’re technical people, software people, but we’ve gone into 163 homes and figured out how to do a bunch of manual labor on the fly.”
HCSS is known for its involvement in the Fort Bend community, sponsoring races and other events throughout the year.
But employees said having such a major impact on the neighborhoods around them gave them a new perspective.
“I don’t think there were a whole lot of businesses that did this,” Barboza said. “I think we were one of the first ones that did this. After us, you started seeing other companies coming together and doing different things, providing shelters and stuff. But actually going out and doing the grunt work that needed to be done immediately – other companies weren’t doing that. I think it’s amazing.”