Group Helps with Tornado Relief Efforts; University-Wide Initiative Taking Shape

photo from tornado cleanup

By Stephanie Cole

Student Writer, EKU Public Relations

Watching a resident mow the lawn of his home that may never be salvaged and hauling pieces of flattened buildings from surrounding fields are just some of the images and experiences a group from Eastern Kentucky University will long remember after helping Morgan County residents recover from a devastating tornado.

Sociology professor Dr. Stephanie McSpirit and Director of University Farms Rick Griebenow were aided by Robert Russell, local business owner, in leading the group of seven students: Tyler Young, Dana Goodlett, Mary Phillips, Megan Norton, junior anthropology majors; Jennifer Tolson, junior general studies in criminal justice major; Erin Watts, junior biology major; and EKU graduate Bobby Carey.

Working in the Woodsbend community just west of West Liberty April 6-7, the group picked debris out of the farm fields so hay could be harvested this year, in hopes of cleaning the fields before the crop got too tall.

“When students participate in activities beyond the classroom, they engage in the act of applying their theoretical knowledge,” said Dr. Jennifer Wies, faculty adviser for EKU’s Student Anthropology Club. “This makes their disciplinary canons real. The visceral experience of being a part of that which they are studying is where lifelong change occurs.”

The effort began with McSpirit’s online environmental sociology class and the Society of Student Anthropologists club. With Tolson making initial contacts for the group and Young and other members of the anthropology club pressing to move quickly, the project gained momentum. “Ultimately, this project has been truly student driven,” McSpirit said.

The Office of Regional Stewardship and Brian Perry, assistant director of student life, helped provide support for the project. In weeks directly after the tornadoes, EKU consulted with staff from Morehead State University who had been assisting in the area since the tornado to help start the volunteer project.

“We all tend to take life for granted,” Griebenow said. “The devastation resembled a movie scene of a war-torn area.”

Morgan County resident James Green said that the community “gained hope and the feeling that they are not alone to face this monumental task of reassembling their lives and homes. This group helped restore that drive that someday our community will recover and, through our experiences, will be even closer and stronger.”

Young said “the main thing we took back with us was the satisfaction of helping good people get back on their feet. The community of Woodsbend welcomed us with open arms, and it was a real pleasure to work beside them and get to know them. The scale of devastation is impossible to grasp, even after seeing it with your own eyes. The volunteer efforts in the area have been enormous, but the community still has a long way to go.”

Goodlett said that “there is little that can be compared to lending a helping hand to people in need. It is a truest sense of fulfillment. I am anxiously looking forward to our future efforts working in the Woodsbend community.”

Tornado relief has since become a university-wide effort. A working committee was established to organize and coordinate EKU’s efforts to assist with the relief and recovery in the eastern Kentucky areas affected by the March storms and tornadoes.  Another trip is planned to the West Liberty area on Saturday, April 21, and additional trips are being planned to assist other hard-hit areas over the coming months. Any EKU department or office interested in participating in the current tornado relief efforts on behalf of EKU, or desiring to join the conversation of how Eastern can prepare for disaster response in the future should contact the Office of Regional Stewardship at 859-622-3543 or at karrie.adkins@eku.edu.  Eastern students and registered student organizations should contact Brian Perry at brian.perry@eku.edu. The web site, communityservice.eku.edu/tornado-relief-efforts also offers more information.

Published on April 11, 2012