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St. Lawrence University group helps hurricane-stricken zones on spring break

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CANTON — When college students are asked about their island spring break plans, they usually name destinations such as Cozumel, Mexico, Ochos Rios, Jamaica, or Panama City Beach, Fla. — but a group from St. Lawrence University chose to spend its weeklong break in Staten Island.

Staff and students volunteered with Tunnels to Towers, a charitable community organization founded in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. While there, they assisted with relief and recovery efforts left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“We stayed at Wagner College,” said Danielle M. McBride, Rochester. “A big component was talking to the people. They genuinely cared about each other. They were still hopeful for what could be and they expressed how appreciative they were that groups were still coming to help.”

They were accompanied by staff members Lauren E. Stemler, Belvedere, N.J., and Angelica M. Soto, Oneonta, both residential coordinators.

“We mainly worked installing insulation and drywall,” Ms. Stemler said. “We also helped at one of their relief centers, handing out boxes of food, cleaning supplies and toys for children.”

“For me, I have a lot of friends in New York City,” Ms. Soto said. “This pulled at my heartstrings.”

While in the New York City region, the group got a first-hand glimpse into the lingering destruction almost five months after the storm made landfall.

“There was a mountain of garbage on the beach a mile high,” said Reuben G. Wolf, a student from Coral Springs, Fla. “It didn’t look like anyone was going to clean it up.”

Ms. McBride was struck by the random destruction left by Sandy’s path.

“One street could be fine; the next could have a couple of feet of water,” she said. “One block would look perfectly normal; the next would have houses with X’s painted on them and empty lots.”

The group expressed concern that state and federal governments would forget about the storm’s impact, Ms. Stemler said.

“It seems like it is so far after the storm, people are beginning to move on to other projects,” she said. “It’s going to take years to clean this up.”

The experience was organized through the university’s Volunteer Services office. The trip is part of a growing trend of college students taking “alternative spring breaks,” where the free week is spent doing charity and community service work.

“We’re grateful that St. Lawrence University provides opportunities like this for us,” Ms. McBride said.

Another group from the university traveled to Winston-Salem, N.C., to volunteer in a Habitat for Humanity construction project.

Many St. Lawrence University students and staff have made volunteerism a regular part of their campus life, Ms. Stemler said.

“A lot of us going on trips are involved in service year round,” she said. “It is a good way to go out and do something meaningful for the community.”

For others, the trip was a good way to make their free time count.

“I really didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Mr. Wolf said. “I’m glad I got into the trip.”

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