Instead of vacationing or relaxing, a group of Stony Brook University students will spend their college’s spring break volunteering in flood relief and reconstruction efforts, mucking and gutting homes damaged by last September’s flash flooding in Denver.
From March 15 to 21, under the university’s Alternative Spring Break Outreach Club, 90 students and faculty will help rebuild homes damaged by flooding in northern Colorado, including Boulder and communities just west of Denver. The flooding from nearly a foot of rainfall lasted nearly a week and covered hundreds of square miles.
After seeing his community pull together to rebuild after superstorm Sandy, senior Solomon Yakubov, a health sciences major who joined the club last September, knew he wanted to do the same for neighborhoods in Colorado devastated by flash flooding.
“After Sandy, so many people came out to support us from all over the country,” said Yakubov, 21, of Fresh Meadows. “I wanted to pay it forward, so I joined the club to give back to others who could use the support."
Yakubov said even with flood relief that already been provided, there is much left to do.
“Flash floods in Colorado devastated schools, businesses and homes, setting them back,” he said. “We want to go in there and see what we can do to help. We will help rebuild communities to the way they were before and help them back on their feet.”
The group aims to raise $50,000 by March 1 to cover student lodging, airfare, transportation and building supplies. Once in Denver, the group will be working with Community Collaborations International, an organization founded in 1994 that has managed thousands of volunteers providing disaster relief and human service projects globally.
To help in their effort, the club is holding two fundraisers Feb. 5 and March 5 at Buffalo Wild Wings, at 1986 Middle Country Rd., Centereach.
It will be the fourth trip with the club for Christine Noonan, an event coordinator at the university’s Office of Student Activities. She said it’s a humbling experience for everyone.
“One group will spend the day mucking homes and helping to rebuild while another group spends time with local children and their families,” she said. “Students get the most out of the trip when they interact with locals. It makes it all very real for them.”
The club took a trip to Birmingham, Ala., to help communities rebuild after tornadoes devastated the area on April 27, 2011. Noonan recalled students picking up debris in an open field and their stunned faces after meeting a woman whose home once stood on that very field, but had been ripped out from its foundation.
“She lost her belongings and many of her neighbors died,” Noonan said. “She was devastated, but so grateful for our help. These people's entire lives were taken away and now they’re trying to paste them back together. The point of these trips is to show students that there’s people in need everywhere, not just in your own area, and there is something we can do to help."
Club president Shamvil Bilal, a senior biology major at the university, said the experience volunteering has been invaluable.
“I used to be an introvert, but these trips have helped me grow as a person," said Bilal, 22, of East Meadow. “The people you meet along the way change you. After these big organizations left Colorado they needed our help more than ever, and we’ll be there.”
For information on how to donate or participate in the fundraisers, email the club at firstname.lastname@example.org.