While most college aged students plan their spring breaks around parties, or going to the beach and soaking up the sun, a small group of students from the Habitat for Humanity organization at Millersville University planned a very different kind of trip. It is tradition for our organization to travel a considerable distance over spring break week to participate in what is called Collegiate Challenge through the national Habitat for Humanity organization. Participants help to demolish or build Habitat homes, meet the families and volunteer in the Habitat for Humanity restore. This year, Habitat lacked the allocations to plan such a trip and originally thought that participating in Collegiate Challenge would not be possible. The students were disappointed because this is an event that they look forward to every year.
The board members of the organization and the advisor put their heads together and realized that there was a need for volunteers in our neighbor of New Jersey. If you remember this past fall, the devastating Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey that left homes decimated. The group put together a trip, allowing them to spend the weekend partnered with the Jersey Cares organization and FEMA in cleaning up areas of Point Pleasant and Union Beach, New Jersey. Our first stop was Point Pleasant, New Jersey where we helped to clean up Point Pleasant Lake. A lot of debris had gotten stuck in within the reeds that surrounded the lake. The town itself did not as demolished as one might expect, but they were also a few blocks from the beach. A local expressed her gratitude for helping the citizens of Point Pleasant clean up. She said since the beginning of the clean up project Point Pleasant has been over sighted by FEMA and volunteers because the majority of the damage was not done to the exterior of the homes but to the interior of the homes (flooding), where it is not visible.
Our next stop was Union Beach and although only a few miles separate the two locations, the damage was much different. The neighborhood we worked in sat right on the bay. We found ourselves removing the rubble of a house that once stood. It was easy to tell what room you were supposed to be in based on the rubble you were cleaning up. We moved a lot of marble countertop broken into hundreds of pieces, wood, concrete and tiles. It was a messy job rains had turned the foundation of the home into mud that you could easily sink in. While we were working you could hear the sump pumps roaring dumpsters were positioned everywhere and hammers at nearby homes busily working–rebuilding. A house diagonally across from the one we were working on sat in shambles encircled by bright yellow caution tape. It literally looked like someone picked the house up and put it in a blender. You could see the furniture and belongings the homes owners just sitting there waiting for the owners to return. FEMA informed us that many people will not return to their homes, they simply left them. Kate Brenner and Richard Khuu talked to an elderly local who sadly stated that after spending all those years in his home he was forced to move because he could not afford to rebuild. On our way to return to Millersville we passed a storage station for boats during the offseason. Boats were strewn along a nearby field, toppled over on their sides. It was hard to believe that this was what New Jersey, a place so close to Millersville looked like. In some spots you would believe you were in a third world country. You could never truly believe it or feel the pain of these people unless you see it for yourself. It makes you realize just how powerful mother nature can be, it is certainly not a force to be reckoned with.