September 09, 2011

flood relief
First-year student Bridget O'Donnell and her classmates help clean out Professor Emeritus John Peeler's flooded basement Friday.

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. - With classes in session and most students back in their residence halls by noon, life was pretty much back to normal for Bucknell University students Friday.

While some students renting houses in flood-prone areas downtown were not able to return to their homes, most were expected to move back in next week, Dean of Students Susan Lantz said. It was hard to imagine that less than a day before, local creeks were overflowing their banks; the nearby Susquehanna River crested at about 27 feet; key streets were closed; and some houses, including some student rentals, were being evacuated.

Giving back
The Office of Civic Engagement and at least a few professors took the opportunity to coordinate community outreach and turn the disaster into an important life lesson, said Janice Butler, the director of civic engagement. While some students volunteered at local shelters or prepared "friendship boxes" with supplies for the Red Cross to help those affected by the floods Thursday, others helped bail out basements or move furniture back into the lower levels of homes the next day.

"Some people are just showing up to help," Butler said. "Others, I commandeered to help with the Red Cross kids activities and animal rescue. The Bucknell lacrosse team helped move furniture back into the Towne Tavern."

Hands-on learning
Associate Professor of Education Sue Ellen Henry and Writing Center Director Dierdre O'Connor, who co-teach a first-year Foundation Seminar, offered their 16 students the choice of helping to remove damaged materials from a retired professor's basement, moving furniture for an older woman in town or making sandwiches to deliver to volunteers.

"This is a class called 'Timeless Questions, Difficult Times: Making Meaning in Uncertainty,'" O'Connor said. "We are getting ready to read about more serious and really devastating disasters, including the Holocaust. This is not the same kind of disaster, but it is still a devastating thing."

What would you do?
Before dividing the group, Henry talked to the class about the continuum of responses in disaster, which range from those who embrace the disruption as a day off from responsibility to emergency workers who jump into action to help and those in the middle who continue with everyday life. The class effort to help those in need falls somewhere between everyday life and springing into action, she said.

O'Connor took a group of six students to the Pine Street home of Professor Emeritus of Political Science John Peeler, who with his wife, Judy, worked to clear out two inches of water and discard damaged cardboard, rugs and other materials stored in their basement.

"Most of what is affected was the stuff we really don't need," Peeler said. "My retirement study is downstairs, though. The electric panels and the books are safe, but it will require a considerable amount of work to get it back in shape. It's really the amount of trips up and down the stairs that make it difficult."

Judy Peeler also is allergic to mold, which made removing the items quickly important.

"All yesterday morning, we were bailing out the basement with buckets. We had a sump pump, but it has sat there for 30 years and turned to dust," she said.

Bringing it home
One of the students in the class, Andrew Coe, who hopes to major in management, said seeing the flooded streets and community parks brought the disaster home to him.

"Just two inches of water is a lot of work," he said. "I can't imagine how much a whole basement of water or muck would be. But you really do get a lot accomplished when you have six people to help."

Bridget O'Donnell, who wants to major in neuroscience, said it felt good to get off campus and help.

"When you are on campus, you don't really realize how other people are affected," she said. "I had to move my room, and I thought that was annoying, but then you see people's homes are filled with water."

O'Connor said she and Henry hoped the students would think about what it means to be an activist as opposed to a passive observer.

"There are moments when we don't really know what to do," Henry said. "These are experiences where people need to make difficult decisions."

Back to the books
Elsewhere on campus, students were contending with temporary living arrangements and trying to make sure they had what they needed for classes.

Senior Allie Mongan, an elementary education and psychology major from Malvern, Pa., stayed with a friend on Fourth Street Thursday night after she and her three housemates had to vacate the South Sixth Street house they rent. Water flooded the basement but did not reach the first floor, she said, so the housemates will be allowed to move back in on Monday.

"I didn't have one of my notebooks for class today, but it hasn't been too bad," she said. "The houses next door and across the street were condemned."

Junior Rachel Litt, a management and French double major from Lafayette, Calif., said 20 extra students stayed on her floor at Hunt Hall Thursday night.

"We had a big movie night," she said. "It was kind of fun."

Sophomore Tom Carle, a resident assistant at Vedder Hall, spent the night in a common room at MacDonald Hall after making sure all of the fellow students on his hall had vacated their rooms. He was bringing his pillow and a canvas bag full of belongings back to his room late Friday morning.

"I'm sick, so it was a little stressful not sleeping in my own bed," said Carle, a music and sociology major from Randolph, N.J. "But it wasn't too bad.

Contact: Division of Communications



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