Monday December 3, 2012

PUTNEY -- Many Americans were emotionally affected by the images of Hurricane Sandy they saw in the news. Very few actually volunteered to help.

But nine Landmark College students can count themselves among those who did.

Meghan Benzel, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer based on Landmark's campus, organized a group of students who wanted to assist people affected by the storm. The young people held a week-long clothing and food drive with the intent of sending it to families of Rockaway in the Queens borough of New York City.

Benzel, a Landmark alumna, said eventually the students decided to travel to New York to deliver the goods themselves. The nine students, chaperoned by Benzel and Matt Brown, the assistant director of security at Landmark, made the five-and-a-half-hour drive to the Big Apple on Friday, Nov. 16, and returned to campus that Sunday. Benzel said they one took of the college's shuttles, and one of the students drove his truck with the supplies in the back.

"It was a beautiful thing when this all came together," Benzel said. "It was a group that just blended so perfectly.

The volunteers spent three days lending a helping hand to residents who had been devastated by the storm. Benzel said they helped remove debris, pull out sheet rock and demolish homes that were covered with disgusting black mold. She said everyone woke up at 6 a.m. to get to work.

"They were phenomenal. There was such a powerhouse of support," she said. "We did so much in two days we just wanted to stay there forever."

One of the students on the trip was Parry Kring, of Boulder, Colo., who will graduate in the spring with a associate's degree in general studies.

Kring told the Reformer the work was very satisfying and similar to what she did in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina in 2005.

In New York, she said, she and friend Patrick Hamel helped rescue 27 cats owned by a women whose house had been completely flooded. She said she and Hamel got the felines out of the house and put them into carriers to dry off.

Kring, 20, said she and Hamel then offered to clean the woman's shed, which was filled with old cat liter.

"I love doing service," she said, adding that she would do it all again in a heartbeat. "I didn't even want to go back. I wanted to stay there. It was a perfect way to go into Thanksgiving."

Justin Martin, the director of marketing communications at Landmark, said the college and its community are very proud of the work the volunteers did.

"It's terrific," he said. "They exemplify everything we look for in students at Landmark."

Benzel said the volunteers also worked with Team Rubicon, a group of military veterans and medical professionals committed to disaster response. Together they collected the addresses of homes in need and got to six homes in two days.

The whole experience resonated with Benzel when she and the exhausted volunteers in the shuttle sat in traffic on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge after wrapping up the final day.

"This is it. We did it,'" she recalled thinking. "We can leave knowing we helped 20 people."

Benzel said the shuttle-full of volunteers then went to sleep as she drove back to campus.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.