Over winter break, 11 Stony Brook undergraduate students traveled to Houston Texas for an interfaith initiative to help repair the damages that the city incurred during Hurricane Harvey. Stony Brook Hillel partnered with Act Now Houston and Hillel International for a four day service learning trip.
“This trip with SBP was eye-opening. As my first experience volunteering with a large group, it was truly amazing to see how much we could get done together. Going in, I was not sure what to expect when renovating residential property; but, the project leads were friendly, helpful, and ensured that we were safe, organized, and focused. Overall, the trip has left a lasting effect on my intentions to help my community going forward, and on going out of my way to help others outside of my community.”
“Arriving at the Days Inn in Houston, I was excited and dubious. Excited for the opportunity to help those in need but also dubious about how much we could actually contribute in the duration of our stay, a mere three days. As it turns out, a group of thirteen can accomplish quite a lot. The dilapidated state of the house we were to work on, a house flooded by Hurricane Harvey, was intimidating to say the least. Debris and belongings scattered on the ground, old insulation in the walls and ceiling, and drywall needing to replaced did not exactly inspire confidence. Yet, somehow, a group of thirteen untrained individuals was able to become well-oiled machine, giving the home potential for a new life. And later on, this same group was able to help prepare meals for thousands of hungry children with the Houston Food Bank. Limited time does not necessarily mean limited contribution. As I have learned, any amount of time spent helping others can have a substantial, far-reaching impact, and I hope to make similar trips in the future. “
“So this trip was amazing for a few reasons. This was my first time on a plane so it was both nerve wracking and exhilarating stepping outside of my comfort zone and ending up 33,000 feet in the air in a different part of the US. Secondly, I learned that there's a huge difference between donating your money and donating your time and energy. Volunteering with my hands was so personal, I really felt connected to the work that I was doing in a way that I never did when I was just donating a few dollars toward a cause. It's a charitable act that stays with you. I can proudly say I've helped rebuild a home damaged by a hurricane, and I felt great personal fulfillment from being a direct part of the process.”
“I decided to dedicate a portion of my winter break to helping rebuild houses that were damaged in Hurricane Harvey. I, along with 12 of my peers, flew out to Houston (TX) and spent 3 days giving our time and energy towards improving the local community. We spent 2 of our days working on a house that had been damaged by flooding in the storm, assisting SBP workers in various activities. We were able to install insulation, remove damaged drywall, remove garbage, paint and clean the house - it truly felt like we were making a difference and improving the condition of the home for its owner.
Being able to work on the home was a very meaningful experience for me for a number of reasons. I have done work with SBP in New York, and it was very eye-opening to realize that the same disasters and struggles occur all over the country and the world, not just in my local area. People can suffer from losing their homes no matter where they live, and it ultimately comes down to volunteers and non-profit organizations to step in and help those families and individuals return to their homes. It put the work that we were doing, and that I have done in the past, into a new perspective for me; no matter where someone lives in the world, they don’t have to go very far to find someone in need and don’t have to have any experience to provide help. I watched my peers, who had no experience in construction, get up on ladders with a hammer and a crowbar. Anyone can help out! It was an amazing experience that gave me a new outlook as well as an opportunity for my peers and I to work together to bring a positive change to the world.
Throughout the two days we spent working on this home, we also had learning opportunities during our lunch break as part of the Act Now Houston program. These “lunch and learn” activities were discussions about the damage the hurricane brought, how we can help, and how we can take our experiences and turn them into fuel to make positive changes in our local area after the trip is over. I really enjoyed these discussions because they were almost a combination brainstorming ways to help as well as chances to learn a lot about how exactly the hurricane impacted the people of Houston. I think everyone can benefit from engaging in these kinds of discussion-based learning sessions.
Our third day was spent volunteering at a Food Bank in Houston. We split up into different groups and helped stock freezers, clean fruit, pack milk cartons, dispose of trash among other activities. This was a very good experience because we directly saw the impact that we made based on how much work we did. I realized that we were the reason thousands of kids were receiving a school lunch, and knowing that the work you are doing has a direct positive impact on someone else is an amazing feeling.
Overall, the experience I had in Houston was amazing and very eye-opening. I’m going to take away the perspective that everywhere in the world people are in need of help, but also every one of us can step outside and find someone to help. I will also be committing some of my time and energy towards spreading the word of SBP as well as helping others wherever I can.”