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A weekend getaway brings hurricane relief

For many college students, the weekend is a time to relax and party, but four Hampden-Sydney College (H-SC) seniors recently used it for a trip to Houston, Texas, to help with hurricane relief efforts taking place there.

A college press release indicated that the group of students included Nate Horvit, Evan Deyerle, J.T. Taylor and P.J. Mollica.

The idea for the endeavor came about through a simple conversation.

“We were actually talking about what we wanted to do over the weekend,” Horvit said. “It was hard to miss that the hurricane relief is pretty much everywhere. Everyone’s trying to do something. And one of my friends, Rob Holland, just had the idea. He’s like, ‘Hey, let’s go to Houston.’ We were all kind of like, ‘Yeah, that’d be awesome. That’d be great,’ but couldn’t really figure out logistics.”

As they were talking about it while grilling some hamburgers, Student Body President Sam Murphy walked by, and they pitched him the idea.

Horvit said that Murphy said it sounded like a great idea and that they should do it.

“‘We could probably get the school on board,’” he recalled Murphy saying. “And then from there, the school said that they’d come in, and they gave us the rental car and reimbursed us for gas, and we were on our way down there. So, it was just kind of a crazy idea that someone had, and we took it and ran with it.”

The school’s release noted that the trip went from concept to in-progress in two days.

The endeavor spanned five days in September, with a 19-hour journey starting Wednesday, Sept. 6. The men drove through the night, arrived Thursday afternoon and settled in, worked Friday and Saturday, started the journey back Saturday and arrived back Sunday afternoon.

Holland, who is also a senior, was unable to make the trip as he had to get his house ready for more stormy weather that was headed his way.

School officials said in the release that relatives of Deyerle housed the men, and Hampden-Sydney’s office of student affairs covered their expenses. After searching online for ways to volunteer, Horvit 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 food, dropped off gear from the H-SC clothing drive at the Houston Disabled Veterans Association checkpoint 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, drywall, insulation, furniture,” Mollica said in the release. “Everything’s gone.”

Horvit said, “We had to carry out all the furniture, completely gut the house, and it was kind of crazy because the family was there, and they were telling us where to put things. And this little boy — he was 10 years old — was  in there. We were taking everything out of his room. So, once we got that house completely bare, then we went through it, started tearing out the drywall and then taking out the insulation, just getting it all ready to go because it all had to be replaced because of the water damage.”

Horvit added that on the first day of work, “all of us and some other volunteers were in one house for most of the day, and then with the last hour, we moved to a different house that hadn’t been touched before and started repeating the process. And those were all Habitat houses.”

“Where we were in northeast Houston,” Horvit said in the release, “the water level only got about one or two feet deep, and they still had to get rid of so much stuff.”

Mollica said in the release that “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.”

The release stated that during the group’s second day, the students connected with Houston-area resident Miles Cutchin, who is a 2017 Hampden-Sydney graduate.

“His neighborhood in Dickinson was completely devastated by flooding, and the Hampden-Sydney students asked how they could help,” school officials said in the release. “When Miles told them that food was a major need, they drove to Little Caesars and bought 44 pizzas.”

Taylor said in the release, “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,” Cutchin said in the release. “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.”

School officials noted that Cutchin 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,” Cutchin said in the release. “We have a lot of blue-collar people down here who are worried about how they’re going to pay to rebuild.”

H-SC’s release indicated that Taylor, who officially joined the group of H-SC volunteers just two hours before they left the school, was moved by the Houston experience. He said it proved to be 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,” he said in the release. “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,” Mollica said in the release. “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.”

Horvit said that “when you hear about something terrible that happened, a lot of people want to go and want to do something, and then a lot of times — and for us until this trip — it’s usually just a nice thought. So it was really awesome to have the school come together and actually logistically make it possible for us to head down there. So that was awesome. It was also cool just to see what we did had the tangible results.”

H-SC’s release closed by stating that student government leaders are planning to send another group of students to Houston during Fall Break and that those interested in becoming involved should contact Associate Dean of Students Richard Pantele. He can be reached at rpantele@hsc.edu or by telephone at (434) 223-6043.