52 BGSU students lend a hand to Mobile, Ala.

From left: Brandon Young(biology/chemistry) cuts a piece of vinyl siding to size with the help of Dan Stypa (IPCO) and Laura Grothaus (Nursing) for the home of Robert Hughes. BGSU students are assisting Habitat for Humanity south of Mobile AL. (Brad Phalin Photo)

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Fifty-two Bowling Green State University students, along with four staff members, will put the spirit of the season into action in Mobile, Ala. Rather than heading home after final exams, the BGSU students will board a bus to give several days of their holiday break to help Mobile residents still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

From Dec. 18-21, student and staff volunteers are scheduled to help tear water-logged flooring and walls out of homes that were flooded by the August hurricane; build a home with Habitat for Humanity; distribute donated toys, and, in smaller groups, spend time one evening with two “adopted” families.

BGSU student government leaders, recalling the Falcon football team's trip to Mobile for the GMAC Bowl last December, suggested that the University adopt the city after Katrina hit. More than $5,000 was recently raised on campus for the Red Cross there.

“Out of the fund-raising efforts came a decision to do more than send money,” said Clinton Stephens, explaining how the idea for the trip was hatched.

Stephens, coordinator of student organization and community service programs in the Office of Campus Involvement, is among the staff members who will be going to Alabama. Others are graduate assistants Adam McCready and Debra Smith, both in campus involvement, and Irene Scott, who works in Disability Services.

Finding undergraduate student volunteers wasn't a problem. On the first day they could sign up, 34 students were waiting outside the office at 8 a.m. Soon, enough students had signed on to fill the charter bus. The group will leave campus from Lot 8, north of Offenhauer Towers, at 6 a.m. Dec. 17.

Two of the travelers will be sisters Sara and Kristen Lavery of Mentor. Sara, a junior majoring in education, is assistant chair of BGSUrve, a campus-based community service organization.

“I just thought this would be a great experience to do community service on a slightly larger scale” while getting to know and work with others from the campus community, she said. “Community service isn't about what you want to do; it's about a need,” she added. “We're going to do whatever they need us to do.”

While the trip will mean more days away from home before the holidays, the sisters' parents were excited about it, Sara said. “My mom was thrilled about it. She said it was a great opportunity and to go for it.”

A 15-hour ride will take the volunteers to their base, Camp Pinetreat, a Presbyterian church camp about 37 miles outside Mobile. There, they will sleep in cabins and get three meals per day.

After touring the city the morning of Dec. 18, the delegation will divide into four teams to begin their assignments. Following four days of work, departure is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 21, with arrival on campus expected around noon the next day.

Stephens got a preview of what the group will see in Mobile when he visited the city last week. “I was glad to see a lot of progress had been made,” he said, “but I would also say there are many, many more months of work to be done.

“The help the students are going to provide to these families is tremendous,” he added, pointing out that with no government agency aiding the cleanup, the residents are doing it themselves and with contractors' help. He also noted that while many of them are living with relatives or elsewhere now, “the families will be there while we're doing this work.”

Stephens sees the experience as beneficial to the students in several ways. “I think they're going to have more understanding of the importance of community service and civic engagement,” he said. “They're going to have a new perspective on tragedies such as this” and can help others see the impact as well.

During an orientation program on Dec. 3, two psychologists who have been in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast area told the BGSU volunteers to expect an emotional impact and to take care of themselves, and each other Stephens said.

The trip could also be a life-changing experience in terms of career paths. Stephens predicts that some students may look into full-time service positions as a result. Representatives of the Volunteer Mobile organization, AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the Red Cross will speak to the students during their dinners.

Naomi Valdez
Naomi Valdez peels a piece of tarpaper off a wall (Brad Phalin Photo)
Jimmy Myers and Katrina Caldwell
Former Freddy Falcon mascot Jimmy Myers (special education) and Katrina Caldwell (education) install vinyl siding on the home. (Brad Phalin Photo)

(Posted December 14, 2005)