The Edmond Sun

March 25, 2013

UCO students spend break helping Sandy victims

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — New York City is a long way from traditional spring break hotspots like South Padre Island, Texas, Miami Beach or Cancun, Mexico. But it’s where Tyler Mette wanted to be.

Last week, Mette and 10 other University of Central Oklahoma students spent their week off helping victims of Superstorm Sandy.

On Oct. 29, at 11 p.m. EDT, the center of Hurricane Sandy was just 10 miles southwest of Philadelphia, Pa., according to NASA. Sandy was still a hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph. Hurricane-force-winds extended 90 miles east of the center of circulation. Tropical-storm-force winds, however, went much further, as far as 485 miles.

The 820-mile-wide hurricane brought storm surges to much of the eastern U.S. Major disaster areas existed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

On Oct. 30, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters the storm caused more than 20 serious fires to parts of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, City Island and the Bronx. Hundreds of thousands of people lost power. Under-river subway tunnels and subway yards where rail trains are typically stored were flooded. Hospitals closed.

Months later, many victims are still recovering.

The local students made the “alternative spring break” trip with Rachel Winters, assistant director of UCO’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center. Winters said the group collaborated with New York Cares, an organization that meets pressing community needs by mobilizing volunteers.

Mette recalled the first victim he encountered. The storm damaged a woman’s basement, displacing a close relative who had to move into smaller quarters upstairs. He helped clean up her home.

“She was extremely appreciative,” Mette said. “She said she didn’t know what she was going to do if she had not received any help.”

Mette said last year, he went on a UCO-related trip to help victims of the tornado in Joplin, Mo. The experience motivated him to sign up for the trip to New York. He said he is an able-bodied person and wanted to help hurricane victims.

The extent of the damage and the fact that victims were still recovering were an eye-opener for someone used to Oklahoma tornados, Mette said.

“I was just completely overwhelmed,” he said.

Winters said the UCO Volunteer and Service Learning Center gives students opportunities to perform meaningful service in Edmond, Oklahoma City and beyond. The opportunities promote civic engagement,  one of the university’s core values, Winters said.

Plans are in the works to let students lead their own local projects, developing leadership skills, Winters said.