NMU group plans service trip to areas ravaged by severe weather

Helping hand given

Upper Peninsula Power Company workers remove a tree from a power line near Fort Meyers, Florida. Eight linemen and a supervisor were deployed on Sept. 12 to assist Florida Power companies in restoring power to residents in the southern portion of the state. The UPPCO employees recently returned home. (Photo courtesy of UPPCO)

MARQUETTE — Recent record-low temperatures in the Upper Peninsula likely makes a trip south a high priority for some Yoopers this spring break.

A Northern Michigan University outreach group is hoping some U.P. residents will consider incorporating community service into their trip to a warmer climate.

Members of Relevant, a Christian NMU student organization, engage in “Go’n’ Serve” trips to areas in need outside the Upper Peninsula.

Five members of the group, consisting of two middle-college students, two NMU freshmen and an adviser along with Brandy, a service dog, traveled to a suburb north of Houston to clean-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey during NMU’s Thanksgiving break.

In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates 156,000 properties were in some way affected by the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, 68,000 of which are located in Harris County, and only a quarter of the homes damaged had flood insurance.

Relevant members spent five days working with members of Texas-based organization Converge and residents to rehabilitate seven flood-damaged homes in the Harris County community of Cypress.

The work included demolition, clean-up, floor restoration and painting, Relevant adviser Deb Heino said.

Although the hurricane had made landfall three months before, Heino said homeowners, especially in outlying areas, are still struggling to rebuild.

“This cul-de-sac was under 8 feet of water,” Heino said. “That does a lot of damage.”

Even though the group was there to work, Heino said, there were plenty of highlights.

The volunteers enjoyed traveling across the country, working side by side with people of all ages and walks of life and even playing with dogs that belonged to Cypress families.

The culmination of the trip was a meaningful, if unconventional Thanksgiving dinner hosted by one of the residents, Heino said.

“They had just gotten plumbing for the kitchen sink and the homeowners made dinner for the 40 volunteers and family members,” Heino said. “We ate at tables that were made of sawhorses and building supplies, and sat on pallets of mud and drywall supplies.”

Future plans

Relevant is looking forward to a more ambitious trip this spring, and hopes to incorporate local community members into the plan, Heino said.

During NMU’s spring break, March 3-10, the group is planning a trip to Puerto Rico, where residents are still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Maria.

According to a Chicago Tribune article published Dec. 21, over 200,000 homes in Puerto Rico were damaged by the powerful Sept. 16 storm. Residents numbering in the tens of thousands are still without power due to Hurricane Maria’s extensive damage to the island’s electrical grid.

Heino said there are two catches to the NMU organization traveling to the island destination — volunteers and money.

“We have to get a minimum of 15 (people) to qualify for discounted airline rates,” Heino said. “We have set the trip at $800 per person, including air fare, meals and lodging in Puerto Rico. Currently lodging is in a church, but that could change based on availability.”

Getting enough community members and students involved in the trip, would drive down cost and make the trip a reality, Heino said.

“We will be putting a Facebook event page together as soon as students come back from Christmas break,” Heino said. “And we need to get volunteers’ commitment as soon as possible because the airlines are requiring half the deposit immediately when we book the flight.”

The group is raising funds with hurricane relief buckets placed in Marquette County businesses, and are planning a spaghetti dinner at the American Legion in Marquette on Feb. 10.

“We don’t have a time yet, and we are still working out the details for ticket sales, but the date and the place have been picked,” Heino said.

Heino, who has been going on service trips herself for decades, said the excursions tend to be a positive learning experience for all involved, with many families attending volunteer trips together.

“The church group volunteers (in Cypress) were entire families — kids age 4 up to high school age. They did that so they could set a good example for the kids,” Heino said.

And if any U.P. families would like to follow suit in Puerto Rico, parents don’t have to worry about their children missing school.

“We do have a certified Michigan teacher that will be going with us,” Heino said. “We have taken high schoolers on some of these trips, and the experience that public school students will gain is unlike anything they will ever get in a classroom.”

Compassion for people who are struggling is a natural human response, Heino said, and hurricane relief efforts give purpose to that compassion.

“Disasters can strike anyone,” Heino said. “We are fortunate that we don’t have to worry about hurricanes or tornadoes.

Heino said while Puerto Rico is the ultimate goal, if the group can’t get enough volunteers or funding they may have to change their plans.

“If we can’t get the cost down we would probably go to Texas or Florida,” Heino said. “But the trip will happen.”

Anyone interested in participating in the spring break service trip or making a donation can contact Relevant by calling 906-362-4669, sending email to relevant@nmu.edu, or visiting the Relevant Facebook page.

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