BRATTLEBORO -- Samantha Barrale has always felt a connection to New Jersey.
Her parents hail from the Garden State, and she has vacationed in Seaside Heights, N.J., with her family during summer vacations.
So when the Castleton State College senior, and 2008 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School, learned about the devastation Hurricane Sandy caused to New Jersey she knew immediately she wanted to do anything she could to help.
She and campus friend Ryan Flood, a New Jersey native, decided to organize a trip of college volunteers to assist families and homes on the ocean front in Toms River, N.J. Barrale and Flood sent out a campus-wide e-mail asking for volunteers and registered fleet drivers, or those who have obtained a license to operate college vehicles.
Barrale, 22, said she got at least 50 replies and the first 13 respondents were chosen.
The young volunteers got to New Jersey on Friday, Nov. 16, and returned to campus that Sunday. Barrale originally wanted to help people in Seaside Heights, which she calls a second home, but the police were not allowing anyone over the bridge that connects to the Jersey Shore. She said she and the volunteers mostly helped remove debris from people's lawns.
"Families were crying because of our presence," she told the Reformer. "We showed that Castleton State College and Vermont cares about our nation."
Barrale said one family she assisted was a man named John, and his wife.
Barrale, who is set to graduate in May with bachelor's degrees in social work and sociology, said she utilized in New Jersey the skills she has acquired in her classrooms. She said she became an empathetic listener and tried to put herself in the victims' situation, which was especially difficult each time she found a cherished family photograph covered in mud and sludge. Barrale is determined to go to graduate school to earn her master social work degree (MSW) and has applied to the University of Denver, the University of Michigan and Columbia University.
Volunteerism is nothing new to Castleton State students, who previously have assisted in recovery efforts following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. College President David S. Wolk said the volunteers are the embodiment of everything the campus stands for.
"They warm my heart and it reassures you in the promise of young adults in this world. It's all about doing the right thing when no one else is watching," he told the Reformer. "And it keeps getting better every year."
He said the college's motto encourages its students to make a difference on campus and in the community before going out and making a difference in the world. He said he admires how the trip was student-initiated and commended Barrale's leadership.
"She's a sweetheart," he said. "Sam is a citizen of the world."
Just as proud is Samantha's father, Ed Barrale, whose other daughter, Josephine graduated from BUHS in 2009 and also attends Castleton.
"The kid is fantastic. She's always doing something," he said, adding that he broke his heart to see his childhood area ravaged by the hurricane. "God bless her."
Samantha enjoyed the work so much she and Flood are planning another volunteer trip for January or February.
Ed Barrale, who has been in Brattleboro with his wife Pam for 22 years, said he might even join his daughter for the second trip and make it a family affair of sorts.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.