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Puerto Rico is still feeling the effects of Hurricane Maria over a year later, and Olivet students are doing their part to support relief efforts. In December 2018, Community Service Coordinator Jacob Richards led a group of nine students on a nine-day trip to Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, to offer their services to the community.

The group partnered with the organization All Hands and All Hearts to repair roofs across the town. The process included scraping sealant off cement roofs, patching cracks and holes in the cement, and then applying a new layer of sealant. After the initial roof repair process was completed, the team would move on to the sanitation process, which removed mold from the roofs. With the removal of mold, the houses would then become inhabitable.

One of the student volunteers, junior writing major Sarah Feldpausch, states that in addition to the physical work the group performed, the relationships they built were a crucial part of the experience.

“What really resonates in my mind are the relationships you make with the people: the residents who you are serving and the volunteers you are working alongside of,” Sarah said. “The physical work that you are doing — patching roofs, replacing doors and windows, painting or eliminating mold — is very important, but the work that your presence provides is hope for residents who have been facing devastation. It’s a reminder that they aren’t forgotten, and it strengthens the sense of global community by the number of people from many countries who are uniting together to give what they have.”

Senior biology major Sabrina Butler echoes that sentiment. She is grateful the trip allowed her to meet and interact with a variety of people.

“I got to meet new friends around the world, ranging from different ages and different backgrounds,” she said. “I made friends of a lifetime. I would definitely attend this service trip again in a heartbeat.”

Richards notes that trips like this not only allow students the opportunity to make a difference, but they also teach students valuable life skills.

“Students learn how to fly and traverse an airport,” Richards said. “They learn to live as a community rather than as an individual, they encounter new cultures and ways of life, and they even experience what it’s like to be a person who does not speak the native language.”

Because of the success of the trip, the service learning department is hosting another trip to Puerto Rico this spring. Volunteers will continue the work of roof repair and mold sanitation.

Richards is happy to host another trip and eager to continue aiding those affected by Hurricane Maria. He commends Olivet for its commitment to service and outreach.

“Service learning offers so many experiences for growth along with the wonderful help you are giving to others,” he said. “Olivet College offers opportunities for our students that not only change the lives of others, but their own as well.”

Richards believes that the student volunteers have played a crucial part in changing the Yabucoa area. He looks forward to continuing service efforts while watching students grow.

“There is still a lot of work to be done in Puerto Rico,” Richards said. “But with the help of volunteers, like the students who assisted during winter break, the list of to-do’s is getting smaller every day.”

To learn more about service trips, including this spring’s trip to Puerto Rico, contact Jacob Richards, community service coordinator and Difference Makers program director, at jrichards@olivetcollege.edu or 269.749.7127.

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