Over fall break, 10 students travelled to Point Pleasant, New Jersey and helped repair two houses in the area that had been affected by Hurricane Sandy four years ago. The students worked with senior citizens from Lend a Hand, a disaster relief group based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The students did not need any prior experience because these volunteers taught them any skills needed on site.
The Lend a Hand volunteers included a professional painter, carpenters, a military veteran and a retired contractor. With this experience and knowledge, they could teach the students. For first-year Baizhong Jin, this was the highlight of the trip, especially learning how to use power tools. Exchange student Zichun Tang was impressed by the woman who worked alongside her.
“Whenever I was really tired and wanted to take a break, I saw her still working, and I’d think, ‘I need to work hard. I don’t need to stop,’” Tang said.
Students have interacted with senior citizens during the Lend a Hand service trips in the past, but Program Coordinator at the Center for Community and Civic Engagement Sharon Sherick felt this trip was special because several international students were involved.
“We had this connection between international and intergenerational and the whole mix, so that really made for a nice interaction of people,” Sherick said.
To start the service trip, the students left Elizabethtown College Thursday, Oct. 6 at 6 a.m. and drove to a Presbyterian church in Point Pleasant. The church had converted its Sunday school rooms into three sections, which contained 16 bunkbeds each for volunteers.
Similarly, the church’s stage became four showers. The students slept, showered and cooked at this church for the duration of the trip.
The first house the students helped repair was in Union Beach, New Jersey, a 45 minute drive from the church. The students landscaped the lot around the house Thursday, Oct. 6 and Friday morning, Oct. 7. After Hurricane Sandy, the house was rebuilt and set on stilts, so they landscaped the area under the house, as well.
The students and volunteers pulled weeds, tilled the ground and moved 400 pounds of topsoil and 22 tons of stone. They also built a small retaining wall out of bricks and dirt. The purpose of the wall was to keep run-off water from the neighbor’s property away from the house. This work helped satisfy some of the New Jersey occupancy requirements and therefore helped bring the homeowner closer to moving back home.
The group also helped repair a second house in Highlands, New Jersey Friday afternoon and Saturday, Oct. 8. They applied two coats of primer paint to the interior of the house and installed cement boards, which would support the flooring, in the kitchen, bathroom and utility room.
While the students worked at this house, the homeowner came to thank them and shake their hands. Hurricane Sandy damaged both the homeowner’s house and small business, but financially the homeowner could only repair one, so she chose her small business for the income. The students and other volunteers helped her be able to repair her house years later.
“These people have not been living in their homes for the last four years, and if you get to meet the homeowners like we did . . . it just gives you an appreciation of how fortune you are,” Sherick said.
By the end of fall break, the students had worked 190 hours. When not volunteering, they drove around the area. Sophomore Rehana Persaud and junior Margaret Lewen were surprised by what they saw.
“I never knew how severe Hurricane Sandy was . . . until we drove around and saw how many homes had to be rebuilt or renovated because of the impact it had on the area,” Persaud said.
“I didn’t know they were still rebuilding. That was just kind of a shock to me because nobody really talks about it anymore. It definitely caught me by surprise,” Lewen said.
The Center for Community and Civic Engagement sponsored the service trip with Lend a Hand and St. Bernard Project, a non-profit organization that helps rebuild homes after natural disasters.