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Lending a Hand After Hurricane Sandy (Web Exclusive)

Lending a Hand After Hurricane Sandy (Web Exclusive)
Twelve University of Scranton students, and two chaperones, spent their spring break getting their hands dirty in Oceanport, N.J., helping victims of Hurricane Sandy. Click on our "Web Exclusive Photos" link for more images from the trip. (Photos courtesy of Anthony Cernera)

Dorian Skinner ’15 has several lasting memories from his spring break this March, but the one that stands out is of a woman joyfully weeping at his mere presence at her Oceanport, N.J., home. Skinner, one of 12 University of Scranton students volunteering in the blue-collar coastal town, could immediately sense he made the right decision to trade his mid-semester break for a five-day service trip to help others recover after Hurricane Sandy.

“We knew that we were being helpful and we knew that if we weren’t there, these people would have to do all this work themselves,” Skinner explains of his decision to volunteer. “That was a big motivator for everyone on the trip.” That motivation made the week of weeding, raking and clearing away debris feel, well, easy. “The whole time what we were doing didn’t feel like work,” adds the human resources major.

Organized by The University of Scranton’s Center for Service & Social Justice, the Oceanport trip was one of two Hurricane Sandy-related spring break excursions planned by the center. A second group visited and volunteered in Staten Island, N.Y., another hard hit coastal area. These two trips were in addition to three other spring break service trips spearheaded by the center, which sent students to New Orleans, La., Syracuse, N.Y., and Washington, D.C.

While the Hurricane Sandy trips were late additions to the center’s calendar – scheduling of service trips occurs months in advance – Lori Moran, assistant director of the Center for Service & Social Justice, explained the student interest demanded the add-ons. Furthermore, the center received several generous donations specifically allocated for Hurricane Sandy relief.

“It was very easy to fill the spots for the trips,” Moran says. “People on campus really wanted to help. And there were so many students from New York and New Jersey who applied and volunteered.”

One such student was Skinner, whose family lives in Monroe, N.Y., located an hour outside of New York City. While his hometown avoided serious damage from Sandy, he has vacationed and visited the New York and New Jersey coasts, and felt compelled to help.

“It was pretty shocking to see the damage,” Skinner recalls. “There would be areas where one side of the street would be fine, but the rest of the street would be destroyed. I remember one particular home that was pretty much gutted. It was a depressing scene because there were still pictures inside of the family that used to live there.”

The stories of struggle and strife shared with the group were quite emotional, explained Anthony Cernera, director of The Royal Fund, who served as a trip chaperone with Michael Judge, assistant director of facilities operations at Scranton. One elderly Oceanport resident who didn’t evacuate during Sandy explained she was trapped in her crawl space for two days. Months later she was still struggling as her insurance money wasn’t enough to allow her to complete home renovations.

“At one house we visited, in fact the first house we showed up at, the woman ran out and gave all of us hugs and started crying,” says Cernera. “She said to us, ‘You don’t understand; everybody has forgotten about us already.’”

The outpouring of appreciation the University contingent received was often overwhelming, arriving in the form of waves, thumbs up, car horns and even a homemade banner that read, “Thank you to students at The University of Scranton.”

“There was a certain sense that just by us being there, it was a show of support that we cared,” Cernera says. “It was interesting for us on the trip because most of us came from towns just like this.”

Skinner said it felt like the entire town knew the group was visiting to help. That intimacy affected the students, he says, adding, “We actually got to know a lot of people in Oceanport, which was a big part of the experience.”

Equally important, says Skinner, was seeing the aftermath of Sandy in person. “Just getting away from everyday life, away from campus, and seeing something from a different perspective was important,” he says. “It helps you appreciate what you have.”

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