Five months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the southern coast, student and faculty from SUNY Geneseo were in one of the hardest-hit areas, clearing debris, hammering nails and helping families recover.
Since that first volunteer trip in January 2006, members of the college community have dedicated themselves to a long-term commitment to rebuild homes in Biloxi, Miss. with Livingston County CARES.
For the 16th trip over winter break, President Christopher C. Dahl was able to complete his own mission — to share the experience with students, faculty and staff and members of the greater community.
"Our students have been there now for almost four years," said Dahl on the trip. "One of the real pleasures is to see the homeowners as they express their gratitude for the work that was done and their huge pleasure in dealing with Geneseo students."
Dahl and other volunteers, including faculty members Philip Natoli, adjunct lecturer in the Ella Cline Shear School of Education and education Emeritus Associate Professor Lyle Lehman, lived at Camp Victor, a volunteer camp set up in a former sewing factory, and split into four work crews to work on homes.
Dahl's crew included Tom Matthews, director of Leadership, Education and Training, who has spearheaded Biloxi efforts involving faculty, students and members of the greater Geneseo community. On the roof, Dahl helped scrape off battered shingles and haul up and nail in new boards, as three-time volunteer Julie Butler '10 and others hauled debris, measured boards, brought down a ceiling and did other construction.
A crew from Kentucky led the way, with the hopes of demolishing and rebuilding the home in time for the homeowner to move in by her birthday in February.
"We can really see that we're accomplishing something," said Dahl, who was able to meet several homeowners who are now living in homes that past Geneseo crews worked on at a special picnic arranged by Matthews.
The trip was a sort of homecoming for Dahl as well: As a Harvard University student 43 years ago, he helped repair homes of low-income Biloxi residents with the Back Bay Mission.
"We were doing exactly the same thing. We were repairing houses, and painting buildings in the same exact area," said Dahl. "The underlying social problems of poverty and the economic base in Biloxi that were there in 1966, that were exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina, are still there. I saw service and partnerships are still needed."
Like many students, Dahl said he was surprised to learn how many FEMA trailers are still being used nearly five years after the storm, and by the number of families who are still displaced and in need of assistance. Seeing the destruction and recovery so far makes Dahl proud of the mark Geneseo has made in Biloxi - in nuts and bolts and the relationships that the college has built with homeowners and county leaders. The learning experience it provides students is remarkable, said Dahl.
"I was really impressed with the sincerity and earnestness of the students," he said. "They were down there to work and help people and that was gratifying to see."
Livingston County CARES volunteers have three more trips this academic year, in February, March and May.
IN OTHER NEWS
President Christopher C. Dahl is applauding reforms to the state's system of public higher education that Gov. David A. Paterson is proposing in his 2010-11 budget.
Paterson said the state must provide its institutions of higher education with freedom and flexibility to drive development on and off campus, preparing students for the jobs in the new economy to propel New York forward.
"This act is the most significant legislative event for SUNY in a generation and calls for almost all of the things Geneseo has been asking for in recent years," said Dahl. "Control over tuition, efficiencies in procurement, the ability to do public/private partnerships, and additional flexibilities would be a tremendous boon for New York."
The Public Higher Education Empowerment Act would affect SUNY and CUNY. Dahl cautioned that the state budget is still in serious trouble with Geneseo facing a $3.2 million shortfall in the 2010-11 budget, but was optimistic that the proposed empowerment legislation would advance SUNY in a positive direction.
"Our budget situation brings into sharp focus the need for the kind of flexibility specified in this act, especially as state support for higher education continues to dwindle," said Dahl. "I will be strongly and actively encouraging legislators to support it as part of the budget and I encourage our faculty and staff to do the same."
Provost Carol S. Long said the campus cannot depend entirely on the act for solutions. "We must continue our efforts to identify areas of cost savings, areas of new income, and areas of quality improvement so that we may thrive."
The deadline for the state Legislature to pass the 2010-11 budget is April 1.
Robert Roecker, professor emeritus of biology, joined the Geneseo college community in 1962. For more than 20 years he mentored students in the field as assistant, associate and professor. From 1965 to his retirement in 1993, Roecker cared for and supervised the college's vivarium animal collection.
He died Thursday, Jan. 7. He was 86.
After his retirement, he continued to share his knowledge with others through his involvement with the Scales and Tails Wildlife Education program of Livonia. Before joining the Geneseo faculty, Roecker was a fishery biologist for 12 years with the New York State Conservation Department.
A memorial service will be held Tuesday, April 20 at 2 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Geneseo.
Employees in the Division of Administration and Finance were recognized for sick leave attendance and safety during the division's recent holiday celebration and recognition ceremony. In next week's ENCompass Weekly, read about Dawn Rowe, the 2009 Gloria and Van Quaal Award winner.
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