Living the mission of Niagara University’s patron saint, St. Vincent de Paul, three dozen students took personal time from their Christmas break to travel to Houston, TX to assist in the relief efforts from Hurricane Harvey. The students work focused primarily on repairing and rebuilding homes damaged during the hurricane more than a year ago.
The trip was organized through Niagara University’s Office of Campus Ministry, and was part of the biannual program Brothers And Sisters in Christ (BASIC).
“The homeowners have been displaced or living in a construction zone for a year and a half since Hurricane Harvey. The devastation is unbelievable,” said Kristina Daloia, the university’s director of campus ministry who helped organize the trip and served as a chaperone. “We hear about it in the news for a few weeks, maybe a couple months, and then the news stops, but the struggle continues in Houston. We will definitely be returning to these communities.”
Working in the small rural communities of West Columbia, Holiday Lakes, and Richland, the home improvement work included installing insulation, hanging siding, painting, building a porch, hanging dry-wall, taping, mudding, and sanding dry-wall, interior wall texture and painting, and installing floors.
The groups begin each day with a prayer for their work, safety, and the homeowners, and concluded the day with reflection, which included journaling, partner discussions, and group sharing.
Although the work was hard, and a snowstorm in Buffalo extended the group’s stay in Texas, the students raved about the experience, “Despite having to stay three extra nights …being in Texas and helping fix up homes to help after Hurricane Harvey was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Brigid Burns, a junior sociology major. “I could not have asked for a better trip or better people to spend it with, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to help those in need and meet amazing people who I will never forget.”
In addition to the daily work students were able to do a little sightseeing in the Houston area, including the beach town of Galveston, the museum district and Rice Village in the city, and because of the extended stay, some students were able to visit the NASA Space Center.
Proving that purple pride stretches around the globe, the students also had a chance to meet members of the Niagara University alumni network. Elaine Nowak, ‘91 hosted the group for dinner at her home, and John Prior, ‘75 treated the group for dinner at the local Catholic Charities. The even had a chance to meet Niagara alum, and basketball hall of famer, Calvin Murphy, ‘70, who stopped by the work site to greet the students.
BASIC trips are service immersion trips that take place over winter and spring breaks and allow students opportunities to travel, meet new people, build community, learn, and serve in the Vincentian spirit.