PHOTO COURTESY/WILLIAM NGO
Hurricane Harvey devastated the greater Houston area at the start of the fall semester, leaving behind a harsh aftermath. Now St. John’s is standing by its Vincentian roots by plunging into the devastated area in May to provide aid.
St. John’s holds Plunge Programs in which students immerse themselves in Vincentian service including but not limited to agricultural projects and housing restoration.
Popular plunge programs include locations such as Philadelphia, Panama, Lourdes, Denver, Los Angeles and Niagara Falls, as well as New York City.
According to Jordan Bouchard, residence minister for Vincentian Service, students had been going to Campus Ministry to look for ways to help Houston and get involved with hurricane relief.
“Campus Ministry had been looking for connections of places that would be able to host a group of students to volunteer in the area after such devastation,” Bouchard said. “A student shared with us about an amazing organization that is helping make that possible.”
In association with All Hands and Hearts, a non-profit organization that provides immediate response after natural disasters, the new plunge program was brought to fruition.
Bouchard said, “As a Vincentian university, we are called to respond to the needs of the poor, and the Plunges provide an opportunity to do just that through direct and indirect service, reflection, social justice, and to grow deeper in our faith through these experiences.”
Hurricane Harvey reached winds of up to 130 mph, had 51 inches of rain in some areas and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott activated all 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard, according to CNN.
More than 30,000 people needed temporary shelter.
In order to help, Bouchard said students must ask themselves, “what must be done?” She says the answer is to serve.
Campus ministers Angela Seegel, director of Vincentian Service, and Dennis Gallagher, director of liturgy and faith formation, will lead 13 students, both undergraduate and graduate, to Northeast Houston May 22-27 after the close of the semester.
Bouchard said students will be “mucking and gutting” which is the “removal of mud, muck, milt, and other semi-soiled material from a home because of water inundation, tearing out and removing materials of the homes that were damaged by the water.”
“They also will be helping with cleaning any remaining structures of homes to prepare for mold control and treatment, and helping install drywall, insulation, flooring, etc. It will be a busy day of manual work,” Bouchard added.
The plunge is grounded in Vincentian charism and Bouchard hopes students take away with them the Catholic identity of solidarity and the Vincentian identity of zeal.
He added that key elements of the plunge include community building, spirituality, simple living and service.
“I have been inspired by the compassion and loving hearts our students lead with – it is an honor to journey with our SJU students in this way,” Seegel said.
“We say that the transformation that happens from a Plunge is when we return home and see a new perspective,” Bouchard said. “That is such a beautiful thing — there is an opportunity for transformation and long term application in their lives.”
Following the trend of responding to natural disasters, a plunge program to Puerto Rico will take place in January 2019 in response to Hurricane Maria.