Five students from the Community College of Allegheny County South Campus (Pa.) traveled to Houston to help residents who are still struggling to recover from the disastrous flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, which caused at least 106 deaths in the U.S. last August. The group spent four days in mid-May working with All Hands and Hearts, a nonprofit organization that responds to natural disasters by engaging volunteers from around the world to address the immediate and long-term needs of impacted communities. The CCAC students — Victor Yates, of Carrick; Wesley Molton-Greening, of South Park; Kimberly Calderon Quintero, of Scott Township; Zeynep Koc, of Greenfield; and Ashok Kadarya, of Whitehall; along with CCAC Student Development Specialist Abby Hindman — were amazed by the devastation they saw and how much work still needed to be done. The volunteers worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. in near 100- degree heat on a variety of projects, including painting, hanging paneling, ripping up floors and “mucking and gutting” a house that had not been touched since the flooding, resulting in mold and rotting boards. The house had to be completely gutted and rebuilt in order to bring a 14-year-old boy with cancer back home to his family. The gratitude expressed by the boy’s grandmother and others for the volunteers’ efforts made a significant impact on the students.
The students also worked on the Rhodes School building, formally a school for low-income and minority students studying performing arts, which was destroyed by the hurricane. More than 80 percent of the students were displaced to another school and, since then, only 40 percent of the students remain in school due to transportation issues. For Yates, seeing smiles on the faces of the students, who were attending school in a trailer, was well worth all of the work he put in to build a handicapped ramp to the school. The CCAC students learned many new technical skills — and so much more. Although strangers at first, the diverse group, which included immigrants from Nepal, Turkey and Columbia, have become close friends through their shared experiences. Originally offered as an alternative spring break, the trip had to be rescheduled for various reasons. CCAC Student Life covered the students’ traveling expenses and also provided funds to purchase the required steel-toed boots. The group was housed in a church, where they lived communally with dozens of other volunteers from around the country and the world.