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by Daniel Paulling

September 7, 2017

Houston Cougar Masters members Finley, Weininger helped residents in hometown

Helena Finley started her fight against the rising water at 4 a.m. on Aug. 27, about 8 hours after the torrential rain from what was then Tropical Storm Harvey began falling.

The Houston Cougar Masters swimmer knew her effort was fruitless after she saw one of her grandson’s toys and a teacup floating. Water wasn’t coming from underneath the doors anymore. It had found its way through the foundation in the center of her house.

There was only one thing left for Finley and her family to do: Help others.

She, her husband David, and their son James used their kayaks to rescue about 60 people (and about 20 pets) from their neighborhood.

“The Finleys are some of the most selfless and service-driven people,” says Micole Rosen, who received help from the Finleys during the storm. “While their house is flooding, David is running down the street trying to put bricks up on all the neighbors’ doors to stop them from flooding, and Helena and their kids are in kayaks going all over the neighborhood rescuing everyone they can. My family is so lucky to have them as neighbors.”

The work provided an escape for the Finleys.

“Going into action and helping the neighbors really helped us mentally,” says Helena, whose home a few miles southwest of downtown Houston ended up with around 6 inches of water on the bottom floor. “Just to look at the house is so sad and so depressing, but being able to help neighbors was just a much better way to spend the day. It just turned into 14 hours of just kayaking and bringing people.

“We were so, so lucky and so fortunate. People are so much more worse off than us. We just cannot complain about anything.”

Finley was just one of many U.S. Masters Swimming members impacted by Harvey, which hit Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, dropped more than 50 inches of rain in some places, and has been responsible for the deaths of at least 70 people. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on “Fox News Sunday” that the cost of recovery could reach $180 billion.

Although she didn’t lose power or have her house flood, Houston Cougar Masters swimmer Melissa Weininger has seen the extent of the damage throughout the city. Weininger, a senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at Rice, says she gathered students from her college to help others.

“You can see it on the internet and Facebook,” Weininger says. “[Someone will post,] ‘I need this. Who can help me?’ Even if it’s tape or bubble wrap, somebody else will say, ‘I can be there in half an hour or I’m sending someone.’ There’s been so much of that. It’s been moving to see.”

She says she also handed out items from the parking lot of the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, which has served as a staging area and is where her club swims. The water in the outdoor pool has turned black from the storm’s runoff.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Weininger says. “I almost started to cry. It sounds like a tiny thing, but when your life is so disrupted—so many people rely on [swimming] for their routine and their mental health and stress relief. It becomes so important having that.”

Daily life, as could be expected following a storm such as Harvey, has changed for the time being. Shopping for groceries last week meant waiting in line to go inside as part of crowd control. Weininger, who lives southwest of downtown Houston, says she recently bought gasoline at a station where an armed guard was posted.

Like Weininger, Finley hopes to keep helping people in her hometown.

She and her husband dropped James off for his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay last week and stopped on their way back at Pewaukee High, where superstar Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt went to school. Watt’s parents were collecting donations there to be sent to Houston, and the Finleys say they volunteered their empty minivan for the 18-hour drive back home.

Back home in Houston, a group of friends and the Finleys’ daughter had ripped out the drywall, cleaned up the mess, and sprayed bleach, and people from the Finleys’ church and school brought food and water to take care of the workers.

The Finleys are grateful for the help.

“Houston is strong and the people of Houston are just amazing,” Helena says. “It’s just so much love and just the whole city is pulling together and everybody is helping everybody. That is the one beautiful thing Harvey has brought us: They don’t care what race, religion, what color your skin is, they don’t care who you voted for. They’re just pulling together and helping each other.”


  • Human Interest