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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Twenty Carleton students lend helping hand in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

<st Carleton students were completing internships or enjoying the last week of summer at home, a group of twenty returned to campus early in order to spend several days volunteering in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Many will remember that Iowa was hard-hit by record flooding in June that left nearly every county a disaster area, and families are still struggling to clean up and rebuild their waterlogged town.

The idea was sparked at a Chicago meeting of the deans of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). Carleton’s Scott Bierman talked with fellow ACM dean Marie Baehr of Coe College, located in Cedar Rapids, about a possible trip to help Coe College in its rebuilding efforts. Baehr noted that while the college escaped severe damage, thousands of nearby homes hadn’t been as lucky, and help from energetic college students would be greatly appreciated.

Economics professor Mike Hemesath volunteered to lead the trip. In addition to having headed previous Carleton service trips, Hemesath grew up in Cedar Rapids and therefore had a special interest in aiding the community. A summer email was sent to all non-freshman students briefly explaining the trip, which would take place the week before classes. Twenty students responded, and they piled into vans on Tuesday, September 9, for three days of hard work in eastern Iowa.

Coe College has a connection with a local Presbyterian church that agreed to provide short-term housing for the group. The Carleton students spent long hours gutting or “mucking out” houses, often alongside the homeowners. This provided good personal interactions, said Hemesath, and a “nice opportunity to really feel like you were connecting with folks who were there.” Locals were grateful for the enthusiastic help, and many were especially impressed when they discovered that the trip was purely voluntary and involved no credit for the students. Second year student Brendan Cassidy reflected that “hearing the stories from everyday people about what has happened since the flood was nothing short of inspirational,” and added, “It was some of the most fulfilling work of my life.”

The local project site leader was surprised at how fast the group was working, and by the end of the first day he was struggling to find more for them to do. When it became apparent by Thursday that the students might run out of work, Hemesath asked if they wanted to skip the scheduled half-day on Friday in order to get back to campus and see friends. The students’ decision to stay was “pretty immediate and unanimous,” he said, their attitude being that “if we’re here, we should work.” They managed to find an additional project and worked through the final day.

The students’ responsibility, organization, and lack of complaint in extremely difficult work conditions was evident throughout the trip. “It wasn’t a vacation… they wanted to go make a difference,” said Hemesath. Despite the grueling work, participants seem to agree with Cassidy. “My blisters are only now closing up, but I’m incredibly glad I went,” Caitlin McKimmy said. “I had a very rewarding experience in Iowa, but all humanitarianism aside, it was very satisfying to be given a hammer and told to bash in a wall.” Wall-bashing aside, these hard-working volunteers represented Carleton well, and the people of Iowa can take heart from this example of college students giving up valuable time in order to make a difference.

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