Houston Office Comes Together to Help After Harvey
Following the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey, Houston office co-managing partners Cliff Vrielink and Kevin Lewis described how the Houston office and the firm as a whole came together to help those impacted by the storm.
We hear about how close the Houston office is, which was made even more apparent as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Where did we see opportunities to help in the rescue efforts?
CV: During the course of the storm, we checked in with all of our lawyers and staff. We also checked on our immediate past summer associates, as well as our incoming lawyers. The impact of the storm was so widespread, it was hard to find somebody who was totally unaffected.
One of our staff members in the records department, Julio Vidal, had a couple feet of water in his house. So a group of us, including Kevin and myself, as well as partners Jim Rice and Mark Metts and associate Adam Prestidge, boated into Julio’s house. The water was so deep, you couldn’t get there without a boat. We spent the day tearing out carpeting and drywall. We also helped Julio and his family locate an apartment, which was almost impossible at the time.
KL: In addition to that, we helped with demolition efforts at several homes in the Meyerland neighborhood, which was entirely flooded. Just about every home had three or four feet of water in it, including the home of one of our former associates who is now a client, Julie Gremillion. Immediately after the water subsided, several of our lawyers went over there and helped her clean out her house. She mentioned that her mother lived three blocks away, and so the next day, more of our lawyers cleaned up her house too. Our lawyers also helped out at the home of a University of Houston law professor who lived a few blocks away from Julie.
Our lawyers and staff participated in cleanup efforts at several community organizations, such as The Center, a nonprofit assisting adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, which had suffered significant flood damage and needed help in order to restart daily outpatient assistance. We volunteered at the George R. Brown City Shelter and the Jewish Community Center, which is right along the bayou and had significant flood damage. Some of our lawyers provided legal assistance to help people sort through their insurance policies. We also helped the Houston Bar Association update its Disaster Handbook. The volunteer work at shelters is something I expect will continue for a while, as well as the demolition and recovery of damaged homes.
How did Sidley’s other offices provide assistance?
CV: Throughout the storm, Tim Bergen, Carter Phillips and Larry Barden were all emailing Kevin and me, checking to make sure that everybody was okay, and asking if there was anything we needed. The firm made a charitable contribution to assist in the immediate needs of local relief efforts. In addition, the LA office held an ice cream social to raise money for the J.J. Watt Fund, and our D.C. office had a jeans day to raise funds. Everybody really jumped in to help.
KL: The office was closed for a week, and we reopened after the Labor Day holiday. That very day, Steve Dempsey, Director of Administration in our D.C. office, came to Houston. He was in the middle of his vacation in Canada, and he left to be here when we reopened. He met with every single employee one on one. We are really grateful for the help we received from all across the firm.
Pictured above, clockwise from left: Houston office co-managing partner Kevin Lewis; Sidley associate Adam Prestidge; and Kelly Stroud, assistant principal at James E. Taylor High School and owner of the makeshift boat, in front of Julio Vidal’s home. Adam Prestidge and Houston office co-managing partner Cliff Vrielink in front of Julio Vidal’s home.