Like so many Hampden-Sydney College student adventures, this one began with a conversation around a grill.
As hamburgers sizzled on the grate, Nate Horvit '18 and his friends were debating whether to drive to Houston to aid the victims of Hurricane Harvey. When Student Body President Sam Murphy '18 walked by, they pitched him the idea. "You should do it," he said. Two days later, Nate, Evan Deyerle '18, J.T. Taylor '18, and P.J. Mollica '18 were en route to Texas.
Relatives of Evan housed the men, and Hampden-Sydney's office of student affairs covered their expenses. Nate searched online for ways to volunteer and registered the group with Habitat for Humanity so they would have a point of contact when they arrived to work.
In Houston, the men donated clothes collected by H-SC students and worked with Habitat for Humanity to clean out flooded houses. "Anything that was below chest height is getting ripped out of these houses, including baseboards, dry wall, insulation, furniture," P.J. says. "Everything's gone."
"Where we were in northeast Houston," adds Nate, "the water level only got about one or two feet deep, and they still had to get rid of so much stuff."
"It took nine people six hours to do one house, and you have so many houses that I just can't imagine that you could ever recover 100 percent from that," says P.J.
During their second day, the students connected with Houston-area resident Miles Cutchin '17. His neighborhood in Dickinson was completely devastated by flooding, and the Hampden-Sydney students asked how they could help. When Miles told them that food was a major need, they drove to Little Caesars and bought 44 pizzas.
J.T. says, "We loaded the car with pizzas and waters and drove around Miles' neighborhood giving them out to people."
"It was awesome to have those guys come down," says Miles. "They did great work for Habitat in Houston, and when I met them at a hurricane relief distribution center, they fed all of the volunteers there before we went out to distribute more food. I can say from personal experience-my kitchen is pretty messed up-and the people who are coming around handing out food are a real blessing."
Miles himself was a major contributor to rescue efforts during the storm, despite the damage to his family's home. As flood waters from the hurricane continued to rise, he and his father used their boat to rescue dozens of people stranded in their homes. Now, he says, they face a long recovery. "The area where I live has never flooded before, so most of the people don't have flood insurance or any kind of insurance that covers this damage. We have a lot of blue collar people down here who are worried about how they're going to pay to rebuild."
J.T. - who officially joined the crew just two hours before they left Hampden-Sydney - says his experience in Houston was markedly different from his past volunteer efforts in areas affected by natural disasters. "I've never seen this kind of damage up close and personal, so this was pretty emotional for me. I've seen damage to churches and communities but nothing like that. It was a lot to take in."
"Most of the volunteerism I've done in the past has been in my community," says P.J. "This was the first time I've gone to help after a natural disaster. I've never seen this kind of damage before ... and on TV you see the worst areas. You don't see all of the other places that still don't have water and that will be recovering from this hurricane for years. This trip gave me a different perspective and I see myself going on trips like this again in the future. Even if it was just a small part, I still gave something and I made a difference to someone else. That's what's important."
Student government leaders are planning to send another group of students to Houston during Fall Break. If you would like to be involved, contact Associate Dean of Students Richard Pantele.