'What they did for us is so much more than I ever imagined... Everybody was so kind to us—they went above and beyond.'
A Texas community turned into guardian angels for two brothers when the pair found themselves on the verge of losing the home their late parents left them. Jaylan Gray, 22, and his 12-year-old brother, Julian, have been through a lot over the past few years. After losing their parents and grandfather, the brothers were hit with yet another stroke of bad luck last year when the massive winter storm that left millions of Texans without power for days damaged the pipes in their home, flooding it and soaking everything from ceiling to floor.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Jaylan Gray revealed that he was left to raise his younger brother after their mother died of a blood disorder two years ago. "Before she died, she told me not to sell the house," shared the young man, whose stepfather had passed away several years earlier. "My mom and my stepdad had paid it off and she wanted us to live in it." Although Gray was determined to honor her wishes, it has been anything but easy for him. He admitted that he came close to giving up when a contractor he hired to make repairs disappeared with about $20,000 after punching holes in walls throughout the house.
A contractor stole their money. The community rallied to fix their flooded home.https://t.co/LpPDwISOYd— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) August 23, 2022
Although Gray filed a police report, authorities were unable to find the contractor and without the resources to pursue the matter further, he eventually decided to move on. Despite his desire to find another way to make the house livable again, with no homeowners insurance to cover the damage and everything else on his plate, Gray had to move across town with his brother Julian to live with their grandmother. "I couldn't keep up with it—it was just too much," he said about the three-bedroom house, which is in Katy, Texas. "I couldn't afford to make the repairs."
However, both brothers wanted to return to the home where they had lived with their parents. "We were really grateful to her, but I always wanted to move Julian back to the house where we grew up, so he could play football at the same school I did," Gray said. "I want to make sure he doesn't get in any trouble and that things can be smooth as possible for him in school." Meanwhile, Gray put his studies on hold and got a job at a car inspection company to help pay the bills and raise his brother. "Julian became my priority," he said. "I promised my mom that I'd look after him and the house, so I dropped out of college. I wanted my brother to feel cared for and loved."
Help arrived in the form of Kevin and Michelle Duty, who volunteer with the community nonprofit Katy Responds, which helps rebuild homes after natural disasters. "It was just heartbreaking to find out what these two had been through," said Kevin Duty. "For Jaylan to have to take on that much at such a young age was unimaginable." The 56-year-old brought the brothers' plight to the attention of Ron Peters, the nonprofit's executive director, who immediately agreed to help and contacted several dozen volunteers after taking stock of the damages to the house.
"When I walked in, my heart sank," Peters said. "They'd lost everything to the pipes breaking except for their mother's dining room table. There were holes in the walls, the floor was completely ruined, and the air conditioning system was gone. The contractor they'd hired had stolen it." Over the course of about three months, volunteers from Katy Responds repaired the roof, hauled away ruined furniture and flooring, put up new drywall and rewired, plumbed and painted the entire house. Gray also joined them on several weekends to help paint walls until they asked him to bow out during the final phase of the work. "We really wanted him and Julian to be surprised at the end result," Peters said.
When the brothers walked into their renovated home earlier this month, both were overcome with emotions. "What they did for us is so much more than I ever imagined," Gray said. "My goodness, I was blown away. Everybody was so kind to us—they went above and beyond." He now hopes to return to college someday and pursue his dream to become a park ranger. "I love being out in nature—that would be the ideal job for me," he said. Until then, his main priority is his younger brother. "I want Julian's future to be better than what I went through," Gray said. "My little brother is my main purpose right now. Just seeing him every morning makes me smile."