Spring-Break Trip Provides Life-Changing Volunteer Opportunity

Published 04.13.2006


Destruction lingers in aftermath of hurricanes.By Juli Reppert, student writer/photographer

A group of 18 Pennsylvania College of Technology students had a different sort of Spring Break experience recently, joining forces with 200 other volunteers in Mississippi to rebuild homes and communities left devastated by two powerful hurricanes.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast in August and September, the Student Government Association at Penn College sought help from the college's Student Activities Office to provide a way for students to aid those whose homes were lost or damaged. A Spring Break (March 5-12) trip to Camp Coast Care in Long Beach, Miss., was arranged.

Sleeping accommodations comprise cots on gymnasium floor.Camp Coast Care operates a distribution center for food, cleaning supplies, personal-hygiene products and clothing, as well as a free medical clinic. It also enlists workers to help repair and rebuild homes and communities in the hard-hit region. The Penn College students along with two college staff members arrived in Long Beach on March 5. Staying in a gymnasium on cots, they worked in the communities each day of their trip.

Though the students were witnessing the storms' impact six months afterward, the trail of destruction still was evident everywhere.

"The experience was not what I expected," said Melissa A. Sitlinger, a technology management major from Herndon. "I didn't expect to help so many people. Even though we didn't work one- on-one with many families, we touched them in their hearts by being there and helping rebuild the community. I thought that the area would have been cleaned up more than what it was, but it hasn't been. With all of our help during that week, we made a difference."

From left, Jennifer A. George, student life information specialist%3B student Michelle L. Miller, Jersey Shore%3B student Melissa A. Sitlinger, Herndon%3B and student Michael T. Magargel, Williamsport."You see it on TV and you think you know, but you have no idea," said Michael T. Magargel, a business administration-management major from Williamsport. "Everything is gone; their city hall is now in a double-wide trailer. It just goes on for miles and miles and miles."

"There were people who needed help; I wanted to help them," he added. "What if it happened to us all of Lycoming County our homes were gone, and our towns were destroyed, literally left with nothing? We wouldn't be able to do it by ourselves."

"The biggest surprise was how happy and grateful everyone was that we were there," said Michelle L. Miller, an applied health studies-occupational therapy assistant major from Jersey Shore. "They gave us anything they could, even though they didn't have much themselves."

Thomas W. Clouser and Amanda J. LeClairOther students who participated on the trip are: Thomas W. Clouser, State College, welding and fabrication engineering technology; Frank J. Corasaniti III, Reisterstown, Md., aviation maintenance technology; Scott T. Cukovich, Renfrew, building construction technology; Douglas M. Bittner, Bel Air, Md., aviation maintenance technology; Shannon M. Johnson, Bloomsburg, pre-surgical technology; Jamie L. Lear, Cogan Station, business administration-management information systems; Amanda G. LeClair, Reading, dental hygiene health policy and administration; Andrew S. McDonald, Muncy, landscape/nursery technology; Jarred P. Moyer, Reading, architectural technology; Mark T. Orleski, Gettysburg, landscape nursery technology; Timothy A. Senavaitis, Bernville, manufacturing engineering technology; Anthony R. Sofranek, Newport, information technology-network specialist; Sarah E. Thomas, South Williamsport, business administration-marketing; Matthew Weiser, Herndon, graphic design; and Harry A. Williams, New Cumberland, surveying technology.

Scott T. Cukovich and Andrew S. McDonaldThe staff/chaperones were Timothy J. Mallery, assistant director of residence life/coordinator of housing operations, and Jennifer A. George, student life information specialist.

"This experience surpassed any expectations for many reasons," George said. "First of all, I was so impressed with the maturity and sincerity of the students who volunteered to go on this trip. Everyone was so motivated and so interested in helping to do whatever they could. I learned that selflessness is contagious. Words cannot describe all of the experiences that we all took out of this trip."