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August 2006
Volume 1, Number 8

After the Storms: One College’s Response to Hurricane Victims

Gary Honnert

BuildersTwenty-five students and faculty from Sinclair Community College (OH) gave up their leisure plans for Memorial Day weekend to build a Habitat for Humanity home as part of Blitz Week in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The build site was not far from the worst damage from Hurricane Katrina.

The home was actually constructed in neighboring Plaquemine, Louisiana, for Kendrell and Keiane Collins, who had been displaced from their New Orleans home by Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the storm, they had been renting in Plaquemine. Kendrell works for Turner Industries, and Keiane had been studying surgical technology at Delgado Community College. They were also expecting their first child at the time the hurricane struck.

A Pledge of Help

Sinclair President Steven Lee Johnson requested that one of two Dayton Habitat for Humanity home projects in which Sinclair was participating be sited in Louisiana in symbolic support of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. System Chancellor Walter G. Bumphus is a close friend and mentor of Johnson, and Sinclair had pledged its support for the system in response to the hurricane’s widespread damage throughout Bumphus’ state.

“I was in conversation with Dr. Bumphus within hours after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast,” says President Johnson. “I pledged to him our personal support in helping the Louisiana Community and Technical College System recover. Placing that Habitat home in Baton Rouge, the college system’s home, is symbolic of our making good in part on that pledge of support.”

The Habitat for Humanity home in Plaquemine was the second structure built by Sinclair volunteers in 2006. Another home was recently built at a site in Riverside, Ohio, just a 15-minute drive from the Sinclair campus. Both of the 1,100-square-foot homes include a living room, kitchen, dining area, bathroom, and three bedrooms. 

The two homes were built in conjunction with Habitat’s national Operation Home Delivery program. The walls were constructed at Sinclair’s construction technology lab in downtown Dayton, using students and faculty in Sinclair’s Architectural Engineering Technology and HVAC programs and Dayton-area volunteers. The wall panels were then transported by truck to the Riverside and Plaquemine assembly sites for construction.

The Louisiana build was an especially challenging experience for volunteers, including some students who were traveling by air for the first time. It was especially meaningful for Gloria Goldman, professor and chair of Sinclair’s nursing program, who was returning to her Louisiana roots. She became both mentor and tour guide for all of the out-of-towners.

“One of the special things that happened was to watch how these 25 people, with little in common, came together as a group, under exhausting hot-weather conditions, to pitch in and work together to build that home. It was really a rewarding experience for students and faculty alike,” Goldman says.

One of several nontraditional students on the Louisiana build was 45-year-old Balinda Zimmerman, a communication arts major and Phi Theta Kappa member. She says she felt blessed to have been a part of the Habitat for Humanity build for the Collins family. “The impact that this experience has had on my life has been profound,” she says. “As a southern gal who has family in Alabama and Florida, my heart went out to these families, as I realized they could have been part of my own family. The love and willingness to accept anything that could be done for them was overwhelming to me.” 

George Sehi, Sinclair dean of engineering and industrial technologies, says the partnership with Habitat for Humanity was a great hands-on opportunity for students and faculty. “We prepare our engineering technology students for real-world jobs and careers. What better way is there to do that and at the same time give back to the community something of real value to both families and in rehabilitating neighborhoods?”

A Real-World Learning Experience

BuildingMany of the students involved in the twin building projects were civil engineering technology students, including some of those involved in the 42-hour Construction Technician Certificate program. Sinclair’s Civil Engineering Technology Associate Degree program places a strong emphasis on construction management. Its graduates work for civil design firms, surveying companies, or contactors, in both home and commercial building. Courses focus on topics such as estimating, scheduling, and building layout. 

Other student volunteers on the Plaquemine build were enrolled in a Special Topics in Humanities class or were fulfilling service requirements as part of their membership in Phi Theta Kappa. Marilyn Rodney, Sinclair’s service learning program coordinator, describes service learning as a teaching method that combines service with academic instruction focusing on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. “Service learning programs involve students in organized community service that addresses local needs while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community,” she explains.

Frank Gorman, executive director of Dayton Habitat for Humanity, says he has worked with a lot of volunteer groups on many Habitat projects and describes the Sinclair project as “one of my most enjoyable experiences.” He admits to being hesitant about traveling more than 800 miles with a group with whom he had no prior acquaintance. Added to that was a very aggressive construction schedule: to build a complete house in a week. Gorman says he had real reservations. 

House“What impressed me most was the enthusiasm of the students and faculty from day one, not only leading up to the trip, but once everyone was on site,” says Gorman. “When the group arrived on site on Friday afternoon for what was intended only as a site survey before work was to start on Saturday, they pitched right in and started putting up wall panels. I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but I was thankful for the initiative. Even with some very long and hot days, when folks certainly had every right to shut down, not once did I hear any complaints. I’m convinced their attitude and work ethic on site transferred to our other volunteers as well.”

Gorman says Dayton Habitat for Humanity was pleased to be partnering with Sinclair Community College to build the two homes. If all goes as planned, it is expected that this will be an ongoing relationship, and Sinclair volunteers will help to build more homes in the years ahead.

“All in all, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything,” Gorman says. “I would hope partnerships such as these would become more commonplace between educational institutions who want to give students a real-world experience that will last a lifetime.”

Sinclair’s Outreach Following the Hurricanes

Donations of tools for Dayton Habitat for Humanity were coordinated through the Sinclair physicial education department's athletic events, but support for hurricane releif didn't stop there. Through personal donations, Sinclair Community College employees helped fund fuel costs for three flights delivering supplies to the Gulf Coast region. These flights were carried out in conjunction with Brother’s Keeper in Atlanta, and used planes and pilots arranged through Sinclair’s partnership with the Delta Connection Academy.

Two faculty members from Sinclair’s American Sign Language (ASL) program provided relief interpreting services for the Louisiana School for the Deaf, a central coordinating point for deaf or deaf and blind people displaced by the storms. Sinclair faculty members interpreted for Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco as she announced mandatory evacuation for state residents with the approach of Hurricane Rita. One of these faculty members also organized ASL faculty at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and Columbus State Community College to provide relief interpreting services in conjunction with Sinclair.

Sinclair faculty, staff, and students contributed school supplies to fill 100 backpacks for children displaced by the storms. The project was sponsored by the Women in Engineering Technologies club. Sinclair’s nursing department donated textbooks and stethoscopes to Delgado Community College in New Orleans, and Sinclair faculty were encouraged to engage students through service learning to provide assistance, directly and indirectly, to victims of the hurricanes. A hurricane relief exhibition basketball game was held featuring Sinclair’s Women’s team against Urbana University’s junior varsity team. As usual, admission was free, but fans were asked for donations to the NJCAA Hurricane Relief fund, to benefit other community college students who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Gary Honnert is Executive Director of Public Relations at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.

Cynthia Wilson, Editor