Roughly 20 Radford University students picked up shovels, hammers and staple guns to help rebuild houses on Monday, participating in a Day of Service to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Pulaski was just one of a few areas in the region that RU students came out to lend a helping hand to. For this project, those volunteers help rebuild two homes that were impacted by tornadoes that struck the county in 2011.
Janet Jonas, the Community Development coordinator for Pulaski County, manages the effort to bring volunteers to help work on the houses. She has also been involved with the recovery process since the disaster.
“One of the unique things about this project was that both entities, the town and the county, worked together very closely,” said Jonas. “It’s one big project to us.”
The recovery project was made possible by a $1.4 million grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The funds were split between the town and county, covering 26 homes altogether.
Jonas hopes to complete the process by April, marking the third anniversary of the tornadoes. By then, she expects nine to 10 rehabbed houses, and 16 to 17 new homes.
The project has relied heavily on volunteer labor, which, according to Jonas, has been valuable as the recovery process moves forward.
“The value of our volunteer hours is roughly equivalent to the value of the donated funds we received,” said Jonas.
For the day of service, volunteers from Radford University helped in the rebuilding of two houses: one on Mt. Olivet Road, and the other on Melbourne Street. Their duties ranged from installing insulation and drywall to digging postholes and putting shingles on the roofs.
Tim Filbert, who works with the office of Community Engagement at Radford University, helped organize volunteers for the recovery process. According to him, volunteer opportunities like this are an important opportunity for students, especially for those from outside the area, to learn the value of citizenship in a community.
“There’s a real interest in students to get involved in their community and help others, and learn about the place they’re at,” said Filbert. “It can be an important part of a student’s learning about what it’s like to be part of society.”
About 60-70 students volunteered to help out around the region for the day of service. As the volunteers in Pulaski were helping rebuild houses, others worked Feeding America in Salem, while another group helped reorganize books at the Blacksburg Public Library.
Participation in the day of service was open to all students at RU, and volunteers came from a variety of organizations and clubs. Most of the volunteers at the rebuild sites were members of the Center for Diversity Inclusion (CDI) and the Diversity Awareness Program (DAP).
Much of the volunteer labor has been from youth organizations, as well as the local universities. According to Jonas, both have been extremely helpful in the recovery process over the past couple years.
“They help us achieve our goals of rebuilding our community and they bring so much enthusiasm,” said Jonas. “What they don’t have in skill, they make up for in enthusiasm and hard work.”
She also noted that the amount of help the community has received from those student volunteers seems to come from their desire to make an impact, no matter how big.
“The youth of today want to serve, and you just can’t say no,” said Jonas.
To volunteer with the recovery process in rebuilding homes impacted by the tornadoes, contact Jonas at 540-994-2602 or firstname.lastname@example.org.