19 Saline High School students heard the call and joined in the Hurricane cleanup in Texas two weeks ago.
Ellie Beekman, Jane Burnett, Zoe Ellsworth, Jillian Hoyt, Elizabeth Labovich, Bailey Lupo, Maggie McGreal, Nick Miller, Emily Owel, Carmen Parkinson, Nathalie Richter, Riley Salowich, Emma Springsteen, Jameson Swanson, Shane Trainor, Cloe White, Alyssa Williams, Natalie Wlotkowski and Grace Yi joined Poured Out, a non-profit that connects people with the resources they need after natural disaster, in Port Arthur, Texas. Poured Out was founded by Saline native Carlee Grene.
The group was led by teachers Jen Denzin, Chris Trainor, Ari Frink and Jeff Pike. They worked with four families to clean out debris and moldy drywall left by the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Senior Jameson Swanson was one of the students who helped in Texas. He’d never been on any sort of service trip before and wanted to do something to help people who don’t enjoy the resources he has.
Like the other students, he spent time tearing out walls and floors damaged by black mold and replacing them with new drywall. He was surprised to learn that some of the homes were worth less than the amount of work that was being put into them. Estimated costs for this level of demolition is $20,000-$40,000 per household. The average value of homes in the area was $35,000. None of the families had flood insurance.
Swanson was even more surprised by the people he met.
“The people we helped were some of the nicest and most appreciative people I’ve ever encountered. Each person was so giving even with nothing left to give,” Swanson said.
He recalled one woman who told the work group about how she’d lost almost everything she’d owned.
Still, Swanson recalled, while heartbroken she remained optimistic.
“Being a gospel singer, she sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to us and it was just so moving we were all in tears,” Swanson said.
The students paid their own way to Texas, flying via Spirit Airlines and paying for $260 tickets. The group then rented minivans and traveled from Houston to Port Arthur. They stayed in dormitory rooms at in a local church, which also provided food, for $25/day.
Each morning, students worked in the homes, breaking for lunch at places like Whataburger or a local barbecue restaurant. At around 4 or 5 p.m., they finished for the day, then showered and ate at the church. On Saturday, they visited a Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the end of the Michigan-Michigan State game.
Denzin said the students were surprised by the destruction they saw, and they found it difficult to watch families scrapping their belongings.
“It was hard to see entire homes and storage sheds that were filled with items that needed to be thrown out. Working with families to try and negotiate what items should stay or go was tough, especially for one of our families where the homeowner considered herself to be a ‘collector,’” Denzin said.
Students learned that not all of the devastation caused by the storm was physical, Denzin said.
“Listening to the stories from the family members was heartbreaking. Each person we helped exhibited some level of shock about the hurricane and their current level of living arrangements. Some of the grown children were remorseful that they couldn't be more helpful and worried about the mental state of their elderly parents,” Denzin said.
They heard from one homeowner who lost a niece in the aftermath of the storm. Chris Trainor said students talked to a 70-year-old woman who had to “swim out of her home against the current with her husband in the middle of the night” to get to the safety of a home on stilts across the street. The woman did not have flood insurance.
“She was an amazing woman and my students were in awe of her spirit and positive attitude,” Trainor said.
For more about Poured Out’s US disaster relief efforts, click here. To donate, click here.