Harvey hits home: Pacelli grad helps in Houston
By Heather McDonald
Almost two weeks after Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas, Stevens Point native Stephen Jurgella still can’t believe the destruction, and he continues doing everything he can to help.
“My (business) partner (Cameron Ross) and I talked about the hurricane a ton, but the media … blows stuff out of proportion (so) I like to watch and see,” said Jurgella, who now resides in Houston. “Turns out, it was worse than even expected.”
Texas officials continue assessing the damage inflicted by Harvey when the category 4 hurricane struck Aug. 25. The strongest storm to make landfall in 13 years, Harvey caused at least 60 deaths, damaged more than 200,000 homes and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes, officials reported earlier this week. Officials believe those numbers will continue to climb as floodwaters recede. More than 7,000 people remain sheltered at George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
Jurgella watched the hurricane hit Houston from afar while in Stevens Point, where he was staying for a few days while taking care of an apartment complex he owns on Doolittle Drive. His flight was cancelled when George Bush Intercontinental Airport closed, and as he flew into Houston Thursday evening, Aug. 31, he was shocked.
“In Kingwood, Texas, there’s a golf course I took a picture of from 200 feet up, and the homes are gone,” he told the Gazette as he was driving through wrecks and road closures in Texas, trying to get supplies to smaller towns 80 and 100 miles east of Houston.
“It was hard for me not to get a little, you know,” he paused, almost stuttering trying to find words. “It’s just emotional. It’s just hard to see. I saw a farm that was completely gone, and I think about Wisconsin, and it’s just frustrating because you can’t even get there to help them.
“You hear Chinook helicopters going over and everything, and the reality is you just can’t do that much, and that’s demoralizing,” he said.
As a second hurricane, Irma, made its way through Puerto Rico on track to hit Florida and possibly enter the Gulf – meaning potentially more flooding on an already saturated coast line – southeast Texans waited for action from Congress this week.
The House was set to take up legislation Wednesday, Sept. 6, after press deadline to provide aid to Texas, and expected to vote on a $7.85 billion aid package introduced Sunday, Sept. 4.
Jurgella was fortunate: his home, purchased just about a year ago, is in the Heights, one of the highest elevated locations in Houston. Flood waters rose high enough to damage his porch, he said, but nothing entered his home. For several days, he housed a single mother and her two children and a coworker’s friend, both of whom had severe damage to their homes.
While he opened his doors to those in need, he also took to the streets with co-workers, filling vans with what ended up being nearly $4,000 in supplies and water and driving it out to areas without electricity and running water, like Winnie, Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas.
Over Labor Day weekend, Jurgella and longtime friend Josh Wischnewsky opened up Winnie Dodge, the dealership Wischnewsky co-owns, to about 600 people of Winnie and surrounding areas so they could gather needed supplies including wipes, water and diapers. They also cooked and then delivered hot pork and brisket meals around the area.
“They’re not getting any attention because they’re not major metros,” Jurgella said. “They need help … those people are going to be out of their home for months, a year for some, and I think that’s what everyone needs to dig in and realize: yes, it’s needed now, but it’s (media attention) going to die down, and (help) is going to be needed in the next several months, too.”
Jurgella continues this week to do what he can. It’s his nature, he said, being raised in Stevens Point, son of Mark and Patty Jurgella of Stevens Point. He graduated from Pacelli High School in 2006.
A 2010 graduate of University of Wisconsin-Stout, Jurgella got a job in Magnolia, Texas, right away, and a year later started Fountain Forward, a full-service ad agency from branding to marketing, in part so he could do what he’s doing today: helping people.
But his roots remain in Stevens Point, and annually, he brings Houstonites into town to share what this area has to offer. He said they always leave saying, “‘this is the greatest place on earth.’ I intend on carrying on that culture,” he said.
“My mother and father are the No. 1 reason I’m in business today, and the reason I think how I think,” Jurgella said. “They’re the reason I wake up in the morning and think about who I can help today with (my) God-given talents. They told me it was my job to use those talents to help others. They also taught me that when the time got really, really bad, few would see it as opportunity, and that I could be one of those few.
“I really don’t have a perfect direction toward using those ‘talents,’ but I give it hell trying to find out,” he said. “Someday, I’ll figure it out.”
Some might say that day has come. Just ask the people he opened his home to. Ask the people of Winnie and Beaumont.