UC students aid in Hurricane Harvey disaster relief


From left to right, construction management students Luke Goyden, Damon Beaver, Keanu Heedram, Jordan Leogrande, Justin Ramsden, Mike Delia, two individuals from Samaritan’s Purse and Matt Benincasa. The team donates tools purchased for Samaritan’s Purse. Photo by Briana Greco

Briana Greco, Features Editor

After a 30 hour bus ride, 27 Utica College students arrived in Houston, Texas to aid in disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

The construction management program at UC initiated the trip to Texas. The group worked through Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit disaster relief organization.

Prior to the trip, David Dubbelde, a professor of construction management, said how attending is really going to change his student’s perspective on many different things.

“I think they’re gonna learn, they’re gonna see firsthand what a real disaster looks like,” Dubbelde said. “Pictures are not worth a thousand words in this case.”

Dubbelde is also a Houston native who has experienced firsthand the effects these disasters truly have on people’s lives.

“Personally, I’ve got family down there, my daughter lost everything in their house,” he said. “They had five foot of water on the first floor.”

The students worked on damaged houses in Houston for three days where they met homeowners, listened to their stories and were given the opportunity to help them rebuild their homes.

Construction management student Jordan Leogrande working on a closet in a home in Texas. Photo by Briana Greco

Houston homeowner Mike Patrick discussed how he has lived through several hurricanes and storms but never experienced one like Harvey.

“It wasn’t the worst as far as wind goes, but was definitely the worst as far as rain goes,” Patrick said. “Even Hurricane Carla in 1962 was a big rain event but nothing of the magnitude of this one.”

He went on to say the storm produced approximately 65 inches of rainfall in three days. Patrick expressed his gratitude towards the UC group and was thankful for any help he received to repair the damage on his home.

“This yard was a mess two weeks ago but people keep showing up right and left, and I am eternally grateful,” he said.

Several of the construction management students were given the chance to have the hands-on building experience that they don’t always practice in the classroom.

Sophomore Mike Delia talks about how he went into the construction field to help people so being able to help with disaster relief was the ultimate reward.

“I love working with my hands, but I also love being able to help people and when I can combine the two of those things, it’s great,” Delia said.

Construction management major Luke Goyden working on a home in Santa Fe, Tx. Photo by Briana Greco

He went on to explain how the houses were not in the shape that he expected, in a good way, but there was still plenty of work to be done to get these homeowners back on their feet.

“I didn’t know what to expect a month after,” Delia said. “I was expecting a little bit more mud and water, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We are hoping to get as much work done as possible with the short amount of time we are here without leaving too much of a mess.”

Samaritan’s Purse hosted the UC group during their stay in Texas and provided them with a place to stay, meals and the volunteer work each day.

Program Manager Debra Cooper oversees the volunteer efforts and talks about how the volunteers’ main job is to prepare these damaged homes for contractors or other groups to come in and start the rebuilding process.

“Our volunteers go out and get the home ready to rebuild,” Cooper said. “This could be removing personal belongings or sheetrock, spraying for mold, putting tarp on a roof and pulling insulation. Anything we can do to get a place ready for contractor to go in and rebuild it.”

There were also students who attended the trip who are not in the construction management program that had the opportunity to come and help.

Junior Liz Kunkler, a physical therapy major, felt as if the most rewarding part of the trip was being able to see the looks on some of the homeowners’ faces when the group was able to help them clean out their homes.

“Even though in some of the houses we have worked in there wasn’t as much work to be done, the homeowners were so thankful for any little thing, and it just feels great to be a part of that,” Kunkler said.

Criminal justice major Danielle Lynch and physical therapy major Liz Kunkler cleaning a homeowner’s belongings in Santa Fe, Tx. Photo by Briana Greco

Kunkler went on to describe some of the destruction that was visible in some of the houses the UC team worked on and cleaned.

“The one house barely had any walls; it is just the supports and we had to take so many nails out of all of the beams,” Kunkler said. “It just looks like they pretty much have lost everything.”

Junior Courtney Tranfaglia also was part of the effort and, even though she didn’t have any experience in construction or building, the homeowners were thankful for any helping hand.

“It has been a lot of sweeping up debris, pulling nails and yard work, but the homeowners are very appreciative and let us know we are making a huge difference,” Tranfaglia said. “Doing what we can in this little bit of time we are here has become so rewarding.”

The construction management program brought along their own personal tools to help rebuild, but also brought several tools to donate to Samaritan’s Purse for extra materials after the UC team returned home.

“We have tools that we bought to make sure we have tools for the volunteers, and we have tools we’re giving to the Samaritan’s Purse as part of the donation,” Dubbelde said.