In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Rice student-athletes have done their part to help the city recover. Teams including swimming and men’s basketball have organized fundraisers and volunteered at shelters to help those affected by the storm.
"Our platform as student-athletes gives us an ability in the community to help out."
Senior swimmer Jaecey Parham and junior swimmer Hanna Huston helped the swim team raise over $6,000 via an online fundraiser to aid victims of the flood. The team has also gone on trips to volunteer at shelters around the city and collected swim equipment for Houston swimmers who lost supplies to the floods.
“Everybody was interested in helping and everybody on the team wanted to give back to the city,” Parham said. “You could tell that everybody really cared.”
The team has a volunteer committee, headed by Parham and Huston, that typically organizes team trips to places like food banks. When the hurricane hit, however, Huston said the committee jumped into action.
“The week leading up to Harvey, we were talking about goals for the volunteer committee,” Huston said. “We’ve already almost exceeded those initial goals. It was a little slap in the face that our goals were probably too low.”
Most of the team’s volunteer trips have been to the emergency shelter at George R. Brown Convention Center. Team members have taken part in everything from dishwashing to sorting clothes to spending time with those staying in the shelters. Huston said people were grateful to see the swimmers volunteering to help them.
“We’ve gotten so many thanks,” Huston said. “People would thank me for doing the smallest things. The police officers were asking for our swim schedule. Some people staying there were saying they’re going to come to our meets. They’ve noticed the Rice presence.”
Huston said the team began a swim equipment drive because it knew that among the thousands of people who were displaced, there would be some swimmers who lost everything to the storm. The team is collecting swimsuits, swim caps and goggles. According to Parham, the drive addresses a need that is easily overlooked.
“The swimming community is one that we can directly help,” Parham said. “It’s a community that we’re a part of and it’s a need that might go unnoticed if it weren’t for swimmers to directly help their own.”
The team is hoping to collect more donations for the equipment drive and is planning to build on its volunteering efforts throughout the rest of the school year, Parham said.
The men’s basketball team has also set up fundraisers and volunteered at shelters and homes around the city. According to sophomore guard Grant Youngkin, the team wanted to aid in any way it could.
“We realize that our platform as student-athletes gives us an ability in the community to help out and have an impact,” Youngkin said. “When we weren’t all affected directly, we felt like we had an obligation to help out.”
The team created two separate online relief funds that it has promoted via social media and word of mouth. One fund gives directly to the Red Cross and another that will be donated to an organization yet to be determined. As of Monday, the combined funds had nearly $100,000. Junior guard Connor Cashaw said he was motivated to start one of the funds because his grandparents were affected by the floods.
“When I saw my grandparents were affected I couldn’t imagine how other people felt,” Cashaw said. “Houses could have been even worse than that, and people are left with nothing. It’s going to take a while to rebuild the city, but we can really help with that.”
After the worst of the storm, members of the team visited the George R. Brown Convention Center where they made and served food to victims of the storm. They also went to homes to clear furniture and other items and salvage property from the flooding. One of those homes was Cashaw’s grandparents’ house, where Cashaw, Youngkin and other teammates carried rugs, chairs, mattresses and couches outside. According to Cashaw, the team’s efforts in the wake of the storm have built unity amongst the players, many of whom are new to Rice this year.
“Hurricane Harvey brought this team closer not only because it affected us but because we felt like we could make a difference,” Cashaw said. “It’s been a blessing in disguise to see the chemistry and see guys getting along and wanting to make things happen for other people.
One person the team has not yet been able to help, however, is its own head coach, Scott Pera. Pera’s home flooded during the storm and his street is still underwater. He has only been able to see the team a couple of times since the storm, but the team plans to help move furniture for him as soon as the water recedes from the streets. Cashaw said it has not been easy to see Pera struggle, but the team is going to support him through the recovery process.
“We’re going to do whatever he needs,” Cashaw said. “Everyone looks up to coach Pera. He’s been one of our best mentors on and off the court, so seeing how he’s handling this, we have his and his family’s back 100 percent.”
Swimming and men’s basketball are just two of the Rice teams helping out in the Houston community. Once the football team returned from Texas Christian University, team members helped teammates who had flooded homes and cars to remove all salvageable items.
Men’s and women’s tennis partnered with the University of Houston tennis programs to take donations of shirts and shoes for flood victims. Rice accepted shoes while UH accepted shirts. Rice players also volunteered at shelters.
Women’s basketball and women’s soccer also volunteered by helping people clean out flooded homes. Even volleyball, which did not return to Houston until Sunday, found time to help out the community by clearing damaged homes of furniture. Teams indicated they are planning to continue their volunteer efforts throughout the year.