East Stroudsburg, Monroe County-For the past eight years, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania (ESU) faculty and students have traveled to the southern United States for disaster relief work - and 2013 was no different. In January, a group of students and Gene White, Ph.D., chair of the physical education teacher education department, spent a week in Swan Quarter, N.C., to help those still suffering the effects of Hurricane Irene in 2011. The students, all physical education teacher certification majors, were: Daren Feliciano, a senior from Lindehurst, N.Y.; Emilyn Rosario, a sophomore from Stroudsburg, Pa.; Kate Rzucidlo, a freshman from Landenberg, Pa.; and Andrew Yanan, a sophomore from Green Lane, Pa.
According to Dr. White, the group's work was rigorous, as they were tasked with replacing roofs on four homes. "We have traveled to Mississippi and worked in Gulfport, Waveland, and Pascagoula, and traveled four times to work in Bayou La Batre, Alabama," said Dr. White. "We have cleaned out homes of black mold, installed drywall, painted, tore off and replaced roofs, and offered a 'listening ear.' Many of our volunteers come back year after year. It is a tremendous learning experience for all. All participants donate time (winter break for students) and pay all of their own expenses, and have enough money left over to leave our host church a gift. Deans from ESU, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and Rowan University (Glassboro, N.J.) have financially supported our efforts too. We hope to continue this learning experience for our students and ourselves."
The best part about the experience was that the ESU students found it very rewarding.
"Most of the volunteers were women, and since we spent our time tearing off and putting on roofs, we called ourselves the 'Shingle Ladies,' " said Rzucidlo.Recalling her conversation with one of the hurricane victims, Ms. Connie, Rzucidlo added,"Ms. Connie was so grateful for something as simple as her roof being replaced and her house being painted. Her facial expressions and sheer joy were enough to make an entire day of work worth it. I thought to myself, when was the last time I thought about my roof? To see what we did was something so simple, but it was so impactful to the homeowners."
ESU student Feliciano said it was great to be part of such a transformational experience. "One night, the United Methodist Church leaders who were hosting us made a traditional southern dinner of pork barbecue, baked beans, cabbage, and slaw," said Feliciano. "They invited several owners of the houses we were fixing to join us. During the dinner, one of them said something that could have been said for every homeowner in that room. Those powerful words were 'We almost gave up. We had lost everything, but our faith in the goodness of humanity and God. To be honest after waiting for so long, you start losing that hope. Seeing everyone give their time, and all the hard work, helps reignite our hope. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you!' "
Rosario added, "When I began the mission trip, I understood the importance of helping others, however, I was unaware of the impact this trip would make in the lives around me. I have met new people through this experience, and I have been inspired to remain active in my community."
According to Dr. White, this ESU department's first mission trip was in January 2006 following Hurricane Katrina. Initially, the group was comprised of ESU students, representatives from the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (PSAHPERD) and members of the East Stroudsburg United Methodist Church. The trip was planned thanks to the support of United Methodist Committee on Relief, the national organization of the United Methodist Church. The next year, the ESU contingency was joined by students and faculty members from other institutions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for the mission trip to Swan Quarter, North Carolina, and it ended up being one of the most fun, most rewarding, and most memorable experiences of my life," said Yanan. "Getting up before the sun and working all day feels a lot less like work when you know what you're doing is entirely selfless. Additionally, the time I spent with all of the new friends I made down there is something that I will not soon forget."
For more information
about ESU's involvement in the disaster relief program, contact Dr. White at
570-422-3604 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Information from East Stroudsburg University)