Hundreds turn out to beautify grounds of Hilliard ES after Harvey

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Last fall, Hilliard Elementary School was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. Floodwaters breached the building and pooled in hallways, classrooms, and the cafeteria. At their worst, they rose as high as four feet.

The damage was so severe, students and staff had to relocate so construction crews could carry out a major overhaul of the building.

“Hilliard was wrecked,” HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby said. “It was heartbreaking to see the extent of the damage.”

Five months later, the environment at the elementary school has completely changed — thanks in part to more than 640 volunteers from across the country, all of whom gathered last week at the newly renovated school to beautify the campus grounds.

As HISD Construction Services wrapped up interior repair and renovation work, the volunteer crew worked to landscape the grounds with more than 300 trees and 3,000 plants and build outdoor learning spaces that students will be able to use when they return to the campus for the 2018-2019 school year.

“For our kids to know that absolute strangers did this for them will go a long way toward making them feel like they are important,” HISD Board of Education President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said. “They have gone through a lot because of Harvey, so this act of care will be very impactful, socially and emotionally for them.”

The volunteer project was organized by Recovery Houston, a grassroots volunteer effort formed to aid homeowners affected by Hurricane Harvey. It was sponsored by Recovery Houston, BrightView Landscaping, OJB Landscape Architecture, and Numotion, a mobility equipment provider.

“During the wake of Harvey, we saw a lot of struggle. We saw a lot of hope, a lot of hearts and hands, but the list of needs was growing, and the shoulders weren’t broad enough,” Recovery Houston Founder and CEO Kat Creech said. “So, I came up with an idea. Why don’t we bring everybody together and move mountains? That idea ignited a movement.”

The volunteer organizations joined forces to create an outdoor classroom, community garden, picnic space, and area for games such as hopscotch, 4-square, and tic-tac-toe. And they did it all in just half a day.

Hilliard Elementary School Principal Edrick Moultry said he was thrilled with the beautification project and knew it would inspire pride in his community.

“When we walk up next fall, when we see our school, we will be excited about all of our possibilities,” Moultry said. “This is an amazing thing.”