Serving Sandy Survivers

During winter break, a group of Earlham students traveled to Staten Island to help survivors of Hurricane Sandy. Here is a video about the trip and a profile of one member of the group.

Precious Byrd ’15 needed a ride to her home in the Bronx for the holidays, and she needed service hours to fulfill her Bonner Scholar requirements.

In early December, Byrd learned about a group of Earlham students who had raised money for a service trip to help the people of Staten Island after Super Storm Sandy. The project was called Serving Sandy’s Survivors, and the group would leave on Dec. 15 to work for five days. They would sleep in a church that would be filled with other volunteers.

Byrd owned boots, had operated a few hand tools and had always had a willingness to help. She also loves to be challenged.

“I thought it would be regular construction work, hard work,” she says. “I thought, ‘I am prepared for this. I am young, and I can do this.’ Once we got there, it was beyond my imagination. It was brown and muddy, and trash was everywhere. The beach was covered in dirt and trash, and even the sky looked kind of different.”

 

A STATE OF SHOCK

Byrd says she found herself in a state of shock. The instruction with hand tools she had received as a 7-year-old and her fashion boots and sneakers were of little use in the desperate situation.

“We had to have leather work boots with steel toes,” she says. “I learned to use six different kinds of shovels.

“We had to pull down drywall that was full of mold and remove flooring. Then everything had to be sanitized with bleach. The thing that really got me was all of the clutter that had to be cleared. We were carrying out people’s memories on our shoulders. There was so much trash on the sidewalks — people’s lives and memories — that were being thrown away.”

One particular experience stands out.

“I was supposed to be helping this man, and he seemed skeptical about what a young woman like myself could do in his house,” Byrd remembers. “This was the second day and I was still in shock mode.”

Rather than be put off by the man’s reactions, Byrd remembers setting her mind to the tasks at hand — nail pulling and sweeping. There was so much to be done that she found herself working through breaks, and when it came time to leave that day she wanted to keep working.

“He saw that I was nearly finished sweeping up all this stuff and he came and helped because there were people waiting for me,” she says. “When I bid my farewell I wondered what kind of a holiday he was going to have with his house all torn up like it was. This really got to me.”

HARD TO LEAVE

That thought propelled Byrd to work even harder throughout the rest of the trip, and when the service trip ended, she had a hard time leaving.

“There was still so much to do that it was hard for me to believe I had to leave,” she says.

Jese Stetson ’14, one of the trip’s organizers, says Byrd was probably the least prepared for the trip but got the most out of it.

“In terms of my education, I feel that this trip gave me life experience that I would probably never be able to get otherwise,” she says. “It didn’t feel like it actually happened until I got there and began to feel the things the people were going through.

“We worked with people from different religions and no religion to help people, and I think Earlham should do more of these kinds of projects.”

Byrd is a Human Development and Social Relations and Japanese Studies double major.

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