Student group bands together to help victims

Members of Relavent, a Northern Michigan University interfaith student organization, discuss hurricane relief efforts at a recent meeting. A Hurricane Relief Concert and Silent Auction is scheduled this Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. From left, NMU student Megan Abramson, Relavent advisor Deb Heino, NMU students Kendra Lahikainen and Tiffany Nguyen. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — In the face of back-to-back natural disasters in the southern United States, a Northern Michigan University student group is working to make a difference.

When others may still have been asking what they could do, Relevant, an NMU interfaith student organization, began placing donation buckets in businesses throughout the Marquette area.

But the 50-member group set its sights on an even more ambitious goal, a local hurricane relief concert coupled with a silent auction.

Relevant is bringing Chasin’ Steel — a high-energy local band famous for its sound, which has been described as “bluegrass with a rock and roll attitude” — in for a concert from 7-9 p.m. Saturday at the NMU University Center Great Lakes Rooms.

The Northern Lights A Capella group and Jack Bowers, a local acoustic guitarist and singer from the Daydreamers band, will take the stage prior to Chasin’ Steel, and the event will be coupled with a silent auction from 6-10 p.m.

The proceeds of the family-friendly event will be used in two ways, Relevant faculty adviser Deb Heino said.

A portion of the funds will go directly to monetary hurricane relief efforts, and the rest will be used to help fund the travel costs of both NMU and high school volunteers as they head to help with clean-up and rebuilding efforts in hurricane ravaged in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

“It will be divided in half — half will go immediately to Convoy of Hope, and the other half will be set aside to help defray the cost of the student volunteers that want to go down,” Heino said.

Convoy of Hope, a national disaster relief organization that Relevant is partnering with for the relief effort, will pay for room, board and meals, Heino said. But traveling to the area can cost $350 per student.

“Three hundred and fifty dollars doesn’t sound like a lot to some people,” Heino said. “But to a student that’s a lot of money, that’s the cost of one or two textbooks and that’s why it’s a big chunk. So we have decided to use some of the money to get the cost as low as possible because most of the cost is transportation for us. You know, it’s a distance to travel from the Upper Peninsula.”

Heino said Relevant volunteers will go to Florida or Texas during Thanksgiving and winter break, and are planning to travel to Puerto Rico during spring break.

NMU freshman Tiffany Nguyen, who is planning to volunteer for the relief efforts during both the Thanksgiving and winter breaks this school year, said she just wants to help people.

“I have done community services really since middle school at a nursing home and in high school,” Nguyen said. “But I was never able to do it outside of my community. So I wanted to spread out more, and learn how things are different even though it is the same thing, we volunteer.”

Nguyen said volunteering has another benefit as well.

“Going there is not just about helping them,” Nguyen said. “It’s about forming relationships with them too.”

Heino, who has volunteered for disaster relief efforts for years herself, said volunteers can help affected individuals with more than cleaning up debris and rebuilding structures.

“A lot of the healing comes from these volunteers, just listening to the resident’s story. Just getting a chance to tell their story, and what happened to them,” Heino said. “Just (to) have someone listen to it, and have someone ask questions. It tells them, ‘We are cared for and we are going to be OK.’ Because a lot of times they feel hopeless, it helps when they can verbally talk about it.”

Megan Abramson, a member of Relavent said the important thing is providing assistance to others, not necessarily the number of people helped.

“I want to do this, even if it makes a difference for one person or one family,” Abramson said.

The silent auction, which is free to the general public, will start at 6 p.m.

The concert will start at 7 p.m. Admission is free to NMU students with ID; $5 per person for the general public; and $3 for a school-age person. Children 5 and under are admitted free.

For more information about the event, or to donate to the effort, visit the group’s Facebook page or send an email to

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is