By Roberta Machin '15
On May 3, the week before Commencement, hundreds of Franklin & Marshall College students headed south to soak up the sun on Myrtle Beach. A much smaller group headed north. Their destination: Staten Island, N.Y., a community still recovering from the damage caused by Super Storm Sandy in 2012.
Eight members of the student-run Catastrophic Relief Alliance (CRA) -- Liana Hershey '17, Julie Hornsby '17, Yixu Chen '16, Kristen Wymer '15, Chris Bruno '15, Roberta Machin '15, F&M Systems Librarian and group adviser Andy Gulati, and friend of the college Andrew Thompson -- spent three days working with the Stephen Siller Tunnels to Towers Foundation to restore a home flooded by nine feet of water.
Tunnels to Towers is a nonprofit organization named for New York firefighter Stephen Siller, who died on Sept. 11, 2001. With traffic at a standstill, he ran into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to catch up with his unit, Brooklyn's Squad 1. He and 10 other members of the squad died in action that day. The foundation supports many projects, including the building of smart homes for amputee veterans and the reconstruction of houses in the wake of natural disasters.
CRA first worked in Staten Island in March 2013, when the club built and donated furniture and helped clean up a home severely damaged by water. Although much progress has been made since that trip, the Staten Island rebuilding efforts are far from over. Many homeowners did not have the resources to restore their homes immediately after the storm, or they were victimized by disreputable contractors. These families rely on volunteers and nonprofit organizations to help them restore their lives.
The club spent three days hanging drywall, taping, mudding, and sanding walls to prep them for painting. Many of the students had never done this kind of work, but everyone was eager to learn and picked up the skills quickly.
At the end of each workday, they would hop on the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan, exploring Chinatown and Little Italy, and listening to the a cappella soloists on the outskirts of New York University. Lunch breaks were spent on the beach, chatting with the locals and sneaking bites of sandwiches to their dogs. New Dorp Moravian Church hosted the team during its stay, and the volunteers spent some of their time there playing card games and watching movies.
It was a wonderful and rewarding experience, and members of CRA gained some important construction skills for future use. Caked in mud and plaster dust, they left Staten Island satisfied, knowing that their efforts would bring one displaced family a step closer to returning home.
About the author: Roberta is Franklin & Marshall College senior majoring in English (creative writing) and German studies. She is from Nazareth, Pa.