In the two months since floods devastated communities in the Southern Tier, Binghamton University students, faculty, staff and alumni continue to provide support to those affected — and to learn from the experience.
Whether it has come from individuals, student organizations, performances at the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts, visits by alumni during Homecoming Weekend, collections in departments and offices on campus or other initiatives, money has been raised, supplies have been delivered and volunteers have grabbed gloves and shovels to help with cleanup.
The Center for Civic Engagement began serving as a clearinghouse for volunteer efforts almost immediately, and continues in that role. Director Allison Alden sees a long road ahead. “I want to emphasize that we will continue to be busy for weeks,” she said. “It’s clear that it will take a long time for us to recover and rebuild, and I see students playing a very vital role.
“There are a lot of students helping,” she added. “We maintain an extensive database and within the first few days of the flooding, about a thousand students asked to be added to our e-newsletter (there are now over 3,500 subscribed).”
Alden, who herself could not get to campus for several days after the flood, said the center was fortunate to have its infrastructure in place to establish solid communication with potential volunteers. “The fact that we had our website ready meant we could share information immediately,” she said. “And we update it daily with new information. We’ve been getting over 1,000 hits a day, and when we put out our e-newsletter, it spikes even higher.”
The center also gets calls from the community and is in regular contact with outside agencies such as the Red Cross and other nonprofits. “We probably still have one of the most accurate websites around. I see our role as managing information, making sure information is available and working closely with student groups who want to do something and don’t know how.
“We guide them and mentor them through it,” she added. “It’s really amazing how our students step up. They couldn’t all help at the Events Center when it was a Red Cross shelter, but they didn’t give up. It’s just amazing to see them want to make a difference — and that will continue.”
For some students, the opportunity to make a difference is paying off academically. A 2-credit service learning internship course called Community in Recovery: Southern Tier NY After the Flood of September 2011, was developed to respond to the recent flooding, and it filled up immediately. In the six-week course, University faculty members frame the issues from perspectives in a variety of disciplines including psychology, geography, geology/environmental studies, public administration and leadership studies. Then community professionals speak about the disaster within the local context. Students participate in cleanup projects and do coursework in addition to listening to speakers.
A small sampling of student initiatives, some in the immediate aftermath of the flood, and others continuing, include:
• Rock the Flood, a 10-act event organized by Binghamton University students and friends, took place on Oct. 9.
• The wrestling team joined with the Red Cross and National Guard and helped close one emergency shelter in nearby Johnson City, readying displaced individuals and families for transportation to the shelter at the Events Center. Team members also loaded and unloaded donations at a local charity before heading out into the neighborhoods to help several elderly families begin to clean up from the damage.
• The baseball team demolished damaged sheet-rock, ripped up and removed flooring, removed wet insulation and hauled out appliances for one family who lost nearly everything to the flood.
• Student volunteers helped collect clothes for the “Share What You Wear” clothing drive.
• The softball team worked side-by-side to help clean out flooded buildings.
• Each weekend, dozens of students load onto buses outside the University Union to be taken to homes ravaged by the floods to help with cleanup.
• The volleyball team saw its practice court in the Events Center turned into a Red Cross staging area, so instead of serving volleyballs across the net, they promptly served meals and supplies to the emergency visitors.
• Members of the women’s basketball team helped at the Events Center, setting up beds, feeding the evacuees and escorting people to the first-aid station as needed.
Alumni also stepped up to help their adopted hometown. A few examples:
• Michael Nagler ’87, superintendent of the Mineola School District on Long Island, drove up on Friday, Sept. 23, with a truck full of school supplies, clothing and furniture. The furniture came from a school building that was closed in his district, and everything else was donated to be given to the Binghamton, Owego and Susquehanna Valley school districts. The president of the Mineola PTO, a Binghamton-area native, was also instrumental in getting parents together to help collect supplies. They felt fortunate that they escaped major damage from Hurricane Irene, but if they had been hit, they would have needed help — hence their desire to help people here.
• Danielle O’Neill ’07, MsED ’10, posted on Binghamton University’s Alumni Association Facebook page that she is collecting baby clothing, formula, toys and anything infants and toddlers need, as well as cleaning supplies, ready-made meals and personal care items to donate to those in need.
Binghamton University President C. Peter Magrath praised all volunteers for their efforts, but also noted that the University was not untouched by the floods and needed to relocate offices and classes from the University Downtown Center to the main campus. “The College of Community and Public Affairs, though temporarily displaced, will be moving back downtown to their permanent home as soon as repairs can be finalized,” he said (probably not in time for spring semester). “But what still strikes me is how quickly everyone came together to help — and how volunteer efforts continue. You inspire me and make me proud to lead this great University and celebrate the joint accomplishments of University faculty, staff and students who stood side-by-side with our community partners, volunteers and leaders toward a single common goal: to provide emergency relief and support to those in need.”
— By Katie Ellis