UD in Service: Students Help Rebuild South Texas
Date published: Sept. 13, 2018
Strengthening and enriching our communities, both local and global, is an important
part of living with a dedication to truth and virtue. We seek to nurture not only
our own families but also our human family. Both near and far, UD students, faculty
and alumni live out this commitment to truth, to virtue, and to humanity as a whole
in various acts of service, helping others to improve their lives and always improving
their own in the process. In “UD in Service” stories, we will explore these occasions
of hope, faith and inspiration.
Last year, when Hurricane Harvey hit, Houston, Beaumont and surrounding areas endured
a natural disaster of unforeseen proportions. The process of rebuilding has been long
and arduous, and this past spring, UD’s Alternative Spring Break program took students
down to Beaumont to join in the efforts through Operation Blessing, the division of
Catholic Mission Trips in charge of Hurricane Harvey relief.
The experience of ASB began several months before they left, with team-building opportunities
and meetings. Then, there was the long drive down to Beaumont, which they spent continuing
getting to know each other, sharing music and playing games. Once there, they worked
at various sites each day, including debris clean-up, making new flower beds for a
church, tearing up house floors, putting up new drywall, painting and overall demolition.
Each day, they ate communal meals, including sack lunches, prepared by Operation Blessing.
“Each day held something new,” said Kelsie Kent, BA ’19. “One day we walked along
the road of a neighborhood picking up debris and various belongings that had washed
out from the houses and were buried in mud all over the yards. Another day our group
was assigned to work inside a house clearing out debris, carpet, tile and insulation.
On our last day, some of us went and worked at a local food bank.”
For pastoral ministry major Stephen Williams, BA ’18, seeing the devastation in person
was a revelation.
“One resident pointed out markings on the roofs that showed how far they’d been submerged,”
he said. “I realized that during the hurricane, all of what we could see would have
been under water; it made me really understand why they needed us so much. It showed
me what really happened there; it’s hard to imagine the impact.”
“Anyone can hear about these disasters on television or on social media, but to walk
through the area and imagine what happened was something else,” agreed Caroline Fangman,
BA ’18, a business major who will graduate in December. She decided to apply for ASB
when she learned that they would be helping Hurricane Harvey victims, knowing that
otherwise she would probably have spent spring break just watching Netflix.
“One neighborhood we walked through was mostly deserted, the homes having been completely
under water and therefore uninhabitable,” added Fangman. “It was so incredibly humbling.
One woman told our group that within a few days, the water had reached heights of
50 feet near her house. Everything she owned was ruined. That statement really struck
me because I’ve never experienced a natural disaster or lost everything I owned, and
I have no idea what it would be like to experience that.”
“Part of the reason the work we were doing was so rewarding was because we spent the
time not only developing relationships with one another, but taking the time to talk
to the locals we met along the way,” said Kent. “There is nothing more important than
stopping to listen to someone's story and ask them how they’re doing, and the people
we were able to talk to were refreshingly honest.”
Even a year after the floods, the community is still recovering, and they probably
will be rebuilding for a few more years. The residents were extremely grateful for
the help they received.
“So many residents pulled up to talk to us and thank us, including the mayor — who
even offered up the port-a-potty in her yard,” said Williams.
“The people still in the town were so gracious for our support and volunteer work,
and I hope they keep getting help to rebuild their community,” said Fangman. “It was
refreshing to see so many people willing to help, even coming all the way from the
top of the U.S. to do so.”
Somehow, too, the work didn’t feel as tedious as it could have.
“The work that our team was doing should have been, objectively speaking, extremely
boring and tiresome,” said Kent. “But our experience was not like this at all. Each
day we had the energy to carry us through the day and had a blast doing whatever Operation
Blessing had us doing that particular day.”
Kent, a theology major, participated in ASB as a first-semester senior; she will not
complete the second semester of her senior year until spring 2019 because she is currently
spending six months in the Caribbean doing missionary work with Experience Mission.
“I can pinpoint the exact moment my senior year of high school when I felt the call
to do mission work, but it wasn't until this past year that that draw was able to
unfold,” she explained. “As I was deciding whether to participate in ASB or not, I
was also discerning whether to embark on a long-term international mission trip. It
was actually my decision to work with Experience Mission that cinched my decision
to do ASB: Too often, people embark on international mission trips having no background
or real idea of what it means to do mission work. It is often forgotten that although
international missions are important, there is also so much work that can be done
on the local level. I knew that if I was going to spend six months of my life in missions,
I should probably begin with a single week. I am incredibly grateful I did!”
The fellowship among the students in the program was profound and added a whole other
layer of value to their experience.
“When strangers get together and do work for God, they bond in such a unique way,”
said Williams. “We bonded so quickly through the work, and a community was created.
We’ve already had several reunions. We share jokes and prayer requests.”
Additionally, UD’s campus chaplain Father Thomas More Barba went along on the trip
and worked alongside the students.
“It was nice to see a priest get out of garb and get dirty,” said Williams. “That
was awesome. We’re lucky to have a younger priest.”
“After working for the bulk of the day, we went back to site to shower and eat. Each
day Father Thomas More celebrated Mass for us, and afterward we would all come together
to play multiple rounds of Secret Hitler, our favorite card game,” said Kent. “It
was strikingly easy to be present with one another in the simple moments like these.
Although we went into the week not knowing each other well, we got along like old
Spending spring break this way, doing such grueling work — including helping to gut
houses that couldn’t be saved — and sleeping at night on cots in classrooms, was certainly
a sacrifice, but Williams would do it again; he is also interested in doing this type
of work in foreign countries.
“Doing God’s work all during the day, constantly caring for these people, even just
removing garbage from the street — then talking to God at night and knowing you’re
his hands and feet during the day — it’s definitely hard work, but good knowing you’re
making an impact,” he said.
“I would absolutely do work like this again; participating in ASB has truly sparked
my passion for missions,” said Kent, who currently, of course, is doing similar work in the Caribbean, and might work more permanently with Operation
Blessing after she graduates. “This type of work brings me so much peace and joy.”
“I would definitely do it again,” said Fangman. “The smiles on people’s faces when
we helped them were irreplaceable. Also, our team became really close-knit throughout
the journey, and I’ll carry those memories with me forever.”
Learn more about Alternative Spring Break. The team for the spring 2019 trip will be selected in October.