Westmont Magazine Ready, Willing and Eager to Help
Westmont students volunteer to fill and place sandbags and assist fire victims sort through the ashes of their homes
As soon as students reached the safe shelter in Murchison during the Tea Fire, they experienced a variety of emotions, including frustration at their inactivity. “Some students were distressed because they could do very little to help themselves and others,” says Trinity Ann Hokama, a resident assistant who spent the night in the gym. But in the days and weeks that followed, Westmont students found ways to reach out to people affected by the fire even though the campus remained closed and they were scattered.
Brandon Woods, the student body president, attended meetings of the Mountain Drive Association as well as the Las Barrancas Home Owners Association soon after the disaster to offer assistance from students. He passed out cards with an e-mail address neighbors could contact if they needed help clearing their property, cleaning smoke-damaged homes or doing other recovery work.
The Westmont College Student Association quickly began collecting clothing for faculty and students who lost all their belongings. They sorted through and washed donations and made them directly available to fire victims.
History professor Alister Chapman, who lives in Las Barrancas, called Benji Bruneel in the Campus Life office, seeking to connect student volunteers with faculty and staff needing help. Benji asked John Carstensen and Christina Carpenter, co-directors of Westmont Student Ministries, to coordinate the student response. They began receiving requests by e-mail, maintained a spreadsheet and daily schedule and assigned students to work with those in Las Barrancas and the local neighborhood requiring help. About 100 students participated in this outreach.
“Students did a host of different things, including cleaning, childcare, rubble-sifting, sandbag-filling, laundry, mulching, moving contents, helping in a crisis call center and other things that I have now forgotten,” Alister says. “I was most encouraged by the way in which all of them did their work with diligence and cheerfulness, even when it was hard and unpleasant. It was one of those moments when I gave thanks to God for what I see him doing in our students’ lives. They were tremendously helpful to my family, helping us move back in sooner than would otherwise have been the case and get our children back to normal life.”
Some students volunteered at Cold Spring School, helping with the after-school program there and assisting teachers with grading papers and other tasks. The women living in one of the Clark cottages agreed to move out so the resident director and his wife, Mark and Nora McCormick, can live there while their home is rebuilt. Students helped with this transition and also packed up belongings from damaged rooms.
When the weather forecast predicted rain, students picked up shovels and filled sandbags and helped place them in critical areas in Las Barrancas and around campus. This work helped protect the campus and faculty homes during several storms.