MCKEESPORT, Pa. — Penn State students from around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave up their spring break to opt for an alternative spring break assisting in the Hurricane Harvey relief. Penn State Greater Allegheny (PSUGA) was one of the participating campuses.
Upon arriving in Beaumont, Texas, students were presented with damaged homes, devastation among families and those who haven’t received aid. “We were mucking houses and removing dirt, debris amongst other things,” said Tony Gomez, admissions counselor at PSUGA. “They were living in this home the entire time; no security, the only thing they had was a deadbolt; the back door was blown off.”
Over a period of five days, the students assisted with a local food bank, connected with the local community and helped in the reconstruction of a new start for families.
The family of Mrs. Jackie lost her home to the destruction of Hurricane Harvey and explained to the group the difficulties of having her life altered by this tragedy. “She was telling us how she was looking for a new home and she was staying with her mother in a trailer and how it was really rough,” said Ronni Corbett, a student at PSUGA. “And that touched my heart a lot.”
Low-income neighborhoods in Beaumont appeared to be the most in need of urgent care and resources to assist those suffering from lack of aid and help. “Your wealthy areas were okay,” said Gomez. “Poor racially diverse neighborhoods had five feet or more of flooding to them.”
Christina Rivera, a student from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, also attended the trip. “You cannot fathom how impacting it is to see that for over seven months it still looks like the day after the hurricane hit," she said.
As the students worked, rummaging through the memories within the family homes, seeing memories fade was heartbreaking. "With the flood, the water washed out all the colors and images and all these memories people have collected over the years were just gone," said Rivera.
While the trip for the students was a difficult ordeal, everyone came together every night to discuss and ponder what they had experienced each day. "You see your students developing and implementing leadership skills. You see them develop empathy for other human beings,” said Gomez.
“Honestly, it was the best experience ever and I would definitely recommend it to everyone,” stated Corbett. “It was great for my growth and it made a difference and that is the best feeling in the world to me.”
For the students, it wasn’t all work — they also had the opportunity to visit NASA's Space Center Houston, a petting zoo and the Houston Rodeo.
At the end of the day, each student said they would do it all over again. "I would 100 percent recommend this experience to anyone," said Rivera. "I am looking to find ways in which I can help those in Puerto Rico this summer."