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To show support and gratitude for health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers keeping communities safe during the COVID-19 emergency. Old Dominion University is illuminating its Education Building blue during May, as part of the national #LightItBlue campaign. Photo Chuck Thomas/ODU

Alternative Spring Break Students Assist Hurricane Florence Victims in Wilmington, NC

By Breanna Bowman

While many students headed to warmer weather for spring break, March 9 - 16, 2019, seven Old Dominion University scholars volunteered their time in Wilmington, NC, with Hurricane Florence disaster relief efforts. The hurricane, which hit the North Carolina coastline September 2018 as a category 1, dropped more than 30 inches of rain in the area with record-breaking storm surges of 9-13 feet.

Led by Susan Craig, office manager from the Department of Human Movement Sciences in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, along with Amy Joaquim, coordinator of the Office of Leadership and Student Involvement (LSI), the students returned from the coast with a new perspective.

"This trip was a learning experience in its entirety," said Merrill Murphy, team leader and an industrial engineering major in the Department of STEM Education and Professional Studies. "I returned with the wisdom of how to lead a team to success, how to turn adversity into resiliency, and how to bring a group of unlikely individuals together as one."

The impact of Hurricane Florence is still being felt today as thousands of families are living in homes without power. Many people are being temporarily housed in FEMA trailers because their homes were completely destroyed or have yet to be repaired. During the trip, the group cleaned up debris along the beach and assisted three separate families to restore their homes.

According to Craig, the students tirelessly worked - without a single complaint - to clean up debris from yards, build chicken coops, assisted the families with organizing personal belongings and dug holes for fence posts.

"They did all this while getting to know the families, being encouraging, supportive and understanding of the family's priorities," said Craig. "I could not have asked for harder working, more caring, fun loving and motivated group of students. They amazed me every day and I am very proud of the enormous amount of work they accomplished every day."

This is the second year Craig has volunteered as a group leader. She is a firm advocate for the alternative spring break program and hopes that more students will sign-up to be a part of the unique experience the next time around.

"What I will remember the most is how grateful the families we helped were towards us," said Arlene Gonzalez, a criminal justice major. "One individual we helped, Ms. Mary, had her whole life turned upside down in a matter of days, losing not only her entire home but loved ones as well."

To participate, the students each pay a fee to LSI to volunteer their time on the alternative spring break. The team worked in coordination with Community Collaboration International (CCI), the Wilmington Baptist Association, who administered housing and hot meals every day, North Carolina Baptist Men Disaster Recovery Team, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Disaster Relief and the American Red Cross, Cape Fear Chapter to find the families who could use the most help. Additionally, they worked side by side with four other universities, including Texas A&M, Plymouth State University, Heartland Community College, and St Ambrose University, Iowa. In total there were over 90 student volunteers.

According to the Office of Leadership & Student Involvement, there may be an opening as soon as Fall 2019 for alternative fall break volunteer opportunities.