Starting anew: Katy brothers return home after restoration

By George Slaughter, News Editor
Posted 9/29/22

August marked the beginning of school, but for one Katy family, it also marked a new beginning in a refurbished house.

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Starting anew: Katy brothers return home after restoration

Posted

August marked the beginning of school, but for one Katy family, it also marked a new beginning in a refurbished house.

Jaylan Gray, 22, and his younger brother Julian, 11, returned to their home in the Village Green West subdivision after Katy Responds, a local nonprofit that provides disaster relief, restored the house.

Facing a series of tragedies

By the time Katy Responds began working on the house in May, the brothers had been through a series of a tragedies over the past few years. Both they and their house had endured much.

In 2014, the brothers lost their father figure—he was Jaylan’s stepfather and Julian’s father—to a heart attack.

“It was pretty bad,” Jaylan said. “It happened at the park next to Brookshire Brothers (Malcolm E. Beckendorff Park, 1815 Katyland Dr.), actually.”

Jaylan attended Katy High School, where he was an outside linebacker on the football team. He and his teammates were looking forward to the 2017 season. Then came Hurricane Harvey.

“Harvey, I thought it would be a regular hurricane,” Jaylan said. “I had no idea it would just park over Houston for I forget however long it did. It was insane. Water was at the front door. We got some water coming in from that door’s disclosure to the street. I had an interesting time spending my birthday just trapped in the house, essentially.”

Jaylan and his teammates spent time gutting houses, including those of some of their coaches.

“That’s how Harvey went for me,” Jaylan said.

Julian said he was six or seven years old when Harvey hit. He said he doesn’t remember much about that time. He said his family kept a lot from him due to his young age.

“All I remember is that there was a lot of water, and at some point, we were stepping through water through the house, and it was really bad,” Julian said.

The family persevered, and Jaylan graduated in 2018. He began attending Blinn College.

“My dream is to be a park ranger, and if not, work at a zoo, work with animals,” Jaylan said.

But more tragedy was in store. In 2020, Jaylan and Julian’s mother died of a blood disorder.

“I still have to get tested to make sure it’s not hereditary, because it really came out of nowhere,” Jaylan said. “She thought was menopause or whatever. It was not.”

By this time, the brothers knew that the house is unlivable. They moved in with their maternal grandparents, who live in the Katy area, until a decision could be made about what to do with the house. Jaylan took a job that kept him nearby.

“There was too much mold in the house,” Jaylan said. “You can’t be breathing that in 24/7, so we had to leave.”

In February 2021, winter storm Uri came.

“Before the freeze, I was already contemplating giving up because I really had no idea when I was doing,” Jaylan said. “We were still figuring out the whole life insurance thing with my mother. My grandfather was telling me not to put that money towards the house. He told me we should probably just sell it and just keep the money and put it towards our savings and just keep rolling.”

“I came back to the house, and I was like, wow, there’s holes in the ceiling now from burst pipes and all that,” Jaylan said. “This is horrible.”

Jaylan and Julian stayed with their grandparents for what Jaylan said was the better part of almost a year. During this time, the family hired a contractor to make repairs to the house. But things didn’t work out and the workmanship was poor.

The brothers were at rock bottom. Jaylan said he was pretty sure they lost the house.

A restored house in about three months

Ron Peters, Katy Responds executive director, got word of the brothers’ plight. He reached out to them, and his team went to work. They began working on the house in late April with an Aug. 1 deadline—about three months. They needed a few more days, and the brothers returned Aug. 11.

Julian said when he returned, it didn’t look like too much work had been done on the outside.

“When I came in, I was very confused because I remember the other guy, the other contractor, he didn’t do a very good job at all,” Julian said. “When I walked into the house, I just remembered all the memories. Me running around the house, watching TV, eating on the table. And I was speechless. I didn’t really think it would happen, especially not like this fast. It was so sudden. I was trying to keep it in a lot, and we went to the laundry room right there and I just started breaking down. I saw everything and everything was perfect.”

Jaylan said he was also a little nervous about returning to the house.

“I didn’t know what you really expect,” Jaylan said. “As soon as we get into the door, I was just flooded with memories of us living here in the good old days. He (Julian) broke down in the pantry/washroom. The room that hit me the hardest was my mother’s room, which is now my room. As soon as I walked in there, I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I couldn’t be the tough guy. I just let the tears flow. It was great. They did awesome.”

Neighbors brought food and grocery store gift cards. The restored house also included new furniture throughout, with one important exception.

“The only thing I really wanted to keep was this table because it’s my mother’s table,” Jaylan said. “They fixed it up for me. It wasn’t in the best shape when they came in.”

A need that still exists

NBC and CBS broadcast Jaylan and Julian’s story. And as hopeful as the story is, it brought light to others in the Katy area who still need help following Harvey and Uri.

Peters said when the NBC broadcast the story, Katy Responds started receiving calls from others needing help. The list now has about 80 names, he said.

“We have folks that are dealing with these both, like these guys,” Peters said. “So, 80 to us is a lifetime. I don’t know how we’re going to do it unless we have some significant funding that we are not used to getting. So, we’re having to figure out a new way to ask for support because we can’t let these 80 people sit. We can’t and I don’t want them to wait three years to get fixed.”

Even Jaylen and Julian still need help. The roof was patched together but needs replacement, and they are trying to pay back taxes on the property.

Peters said those wishing to contribute are asked to visit the website katyresponds.org and click the “Donate Now” button. Donors can specify a particular family, such as Jaylan and Julian, or a particular need, such as a grocery store gift card, when donating.

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