REALTORS® travel to Texas to help hurricane victims in Houston area

REALTORS® Josh Weinberg (left) and Tommy Choi paused to take a photo during a break in hurricane cleanup last week in Katy, Texas.

“You walked inside a home and the smell of mold just hit you,” said Illinois REALTOR® Tommy Choi as he described his volunteer work near Houston last week.

A co-owner of Keller Williams Chicago — Lincoln Park, Choi joined thousands of Keller Williams real estate professionals who provided relief efforts to areas devastated by the torrential rains of Hurricane Harvey. “It was a very sobering feeling knowing the extent of the devastation.”

Choi was originally scheduled to attend the annual Keller Williams conference in Austin, but after the hurricane had such devastating effects, company leaders reorganized the event into a relief effort. Choi and his fellow volunteers jumped on busses at 7:30 a.m. every morning and rode two hours to the Houston area, then worked until 6 p.m. when the busses picked them up for return trips to their hotel. Volunteers worked in groups of 15, “de-mucking” homes flooded by as much as six feet of water.

In one home, volunteers were already working inside when the owners returned to see the devastation the flood waters had caused in their absence.  “It was an emotional day for them,” said Choi, who discovered a dead catfish on the kitchen floor. “Everything they owned was gone.”

Out to the curb they carried furniture, appliances and belongings destroyed by the water. They ripped up carpeting, tore out ruined flooring, and removed plasterboard and insulation marred by water and the subsequent mold. Only walls and wall hangings above the mold lines were salvaged, leaving skeletons of homes to dry out for the next part of the process to begin.

The satisfying part was the large amount of work the volunteers could accomplish in a day, at no charge to the residents. The distressing part, he said, was that the groups would have to move on to different houses the next day. So much more work needed to be done in individual homes and neighborhoods.

Though Choi estimated that Keller Williams volunteers helped clean up 95 homes during their week-long project, that still left more than 100,000 area homes to be cleaned. A post on the Keller Williams Realty Facebook page noted that more than 60,000 volunteer hours had been donated in 25 different locations.

“We couldn’t solve these families’ problems, but we could get them started on their recovery,” he said. “I’m a person that lives my life with gratitude daily, and this experience heightened that gratitude. “

(Editor’s Note: Since returning from Texas, Choi, co-founder Josh Weinberg and 29 of their associates who volunteered in Texas agreed they wanted to raise $100,000 for hurricane relief to help victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. On Wednesday, the Keller Williams Chicago – Lincoln Park team held an all-day, all-office telethon, raising $21,000 toward that goal. Here’s a link to their fundraising site.)

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