September 28, 2011

Students Flock to Owego to Support Residents Over Weekend

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Busloads of Cornell students joined the relief effort in Owego this Saturday and Sunday to help residents who are still recovering from flooding on Sept. 7 and 8.

About 100 students traveled to the region this weekend largely in response to outreach efforts by the Interfraternity Council, Black Students United and Cornell’s Public Service Center.

Mohit Gulrajani ’12, IFC vice president for University and community relations, said approximately seventy volunteers were sent by the Greek system after the IFC urged chapter presidents to get involved.

“Our biggest role was just getting the word out and providing buses,” said Alan Workman ’13, IFC vice president for communications.

Gulrajani described the effort as “community wide,” emphasizing that it had been a partnership with the Public Service Center. He added that Birnie Bus Service, Inc., provided a volunteer driver and a bus for free, although the IFC paid for gas.

Despite their work, student leaders emphasized that more help is needed in Owego, especially with winter fast approaching.

“Although this was definitely a positive contribution, it can’t be the only contribution,” Gulrajani said. “I don’t want this to be a forgotten issue … Hopefully this will be the first of many relief efforts by the Greek community and the Cornell community as a whole.”

To encourage student volunteer efforts, the Student Assembly will propose a resolution at Thursday’s meeting to email all undergraduates with information about flooding in Owego, according to Student Trustee Alex Bores ’13.

Bores, who helped organize the volunteer effort, highlighted the extent of the damage, noting that the flooding caused $12 million in damage in Owego and close to $100 million in the surrounding communities.

“It was a poor community to begin with,” Bores said. “They need so much help. It’s not until you’re there that you realize how much of a tragedy this is and how much Cornell students can help.”

Nate Lockett, the Public Service Center’s K-12 outreach coordinator, said that students’ work this weekend consisted of “helping the residents get rid of things that were ruined and getting them ready to rebuild their houses.”

James Underberg ’13 volunteered with about 25 other members of his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon.

“We were assigned a street in Owego, and we just locked it down and went door to door asking residents if they needed help,” Underberg said. Underberg’s group also helped a family that lived on a horse farm rebuild their fences.

“Everyone we helped was very, very grateful,” Underberg said. He mentioned that one family even offered to take them wakeboarding in the summer.

Many students also volunteered through Black Students United.

“More people need to go,” said Sasha Mack ’13, BSU co-president and a member of The Sun’s Business Department. “People need to care for others.”

The destruction in Owego was staggering, Underberg said.

“It’s pretty disturbing that this kind of destruction can happen so close to home and you don’t know how bad it is until you go see it,” Underberg said. “I didn’t know, but I’m glad I went.”

Mack said she felt that the students’ work had a viable impact.

“I actually felt like I did something. We all did,” she said.

“The thing that struck me the most is that we were there for four hours, and we did what we could and left,” Mack said. “But [the residents] have to live with that.”

Original Author: Sarah Meyers