Service plays major role in city's regrowth

Service plays major role in city's regrowth

In one of his first press conferences following the storm, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox told residents the recovery process wouldn’t take days or weeks. It would take months and years.

Since that time, 99 percent of the FEMA-estimated 1.5 million cubic yards of debris caused by the tornado has been removed, thanks in part to volunteers from across the city and the country.

At last count, more than 24,000 volunteers have logged more than 220,000 hours of service through the Tuscaloosa Area Volunteer Reception Center since last April’s tornado, said Kim Montgomery, .

The numbers are impressive, Montgomery said, adding that the volunteers working to rebuild the city have astounded her day in and day out.

“They’ve shown a great commitment to our community,” she said. “We’ve seen so many volunteers who are committed to the ongoing process; volunteers that are going to go past the anniversary. They have a mission to stay the course.”

Throughout the recovery process, Montgomery said students from the University of Alabama have been the core of the TAVRC and its efforts.

“It’s difficult for people with families and jobs to volunteer during the week,” she said. “During those times when families and professionals have other priorities, it’s really shined a light on the commitment students have. I think UA students have been unmatched in their efforts.”

Likewise, the Community Service Center on the UA campus has seen many students volunteer in all aspects of the rebuilding process.

Wahnee Sherman, director of the CSC, said that although there is really no way to know just how many volunteer hours have been logged through the organization, students have helped with everything from debris removal to rebuilding.

“Our students have been invaluable throughout this process,” Sherman said. “So many of our students were helped by others, so it was only natural that they would want to continue to help others.  I knew they would seek out ways to help this community.  Through something like this, students become even more connected to the community that is their home.”

Sherman said she hoped the CSC’s focus on recovery, through numerous events such as Hands On Tuscaloosa, its Family Weekend Service Project and others, has led to an increased spirit of giving overall.

“We have tried to really focus on understanding what the nonprofits in our community need and how our students can help with those needs,” she said. “We’ve continued to try to make sure our students can be that kind of resource to the organizations in this community who have been and continue to help people who need help in the Tuscaloosa area.”

Since April 27, Sherman said students have been good about helping out wherever and however they are needed, which has prevented the CSC from having any problems gaining volunteers and resources for non-tornado related work.

“I think the thing that sticks out the most is that our students truly want to make a difference in this community,” she said. “I think they understand the community in a way that they didn’t before April 27, 2011, and they feel more connected to the community. That has driven their desire to want to give back.”

Andres Mendieta, student director of volunteer outreach and public relations at the CSC, said he has been exposed to the many issues that plagued Tuscaloosa before the tornado through the work he has done since last April.

“Before the tornado, I thought of volunteering as simply helping those less fortunate than myself,” Mendieta said. “Now, I see those that I volunteer for more so as neighbors and fellow citizens. People of all socioeconomic statuses were affected by the tornado and we are all victims together. The tornado really put into perspective the relationship I've had with my fellow man.”

Both Montgomery and Sherman said their respective organizations plan to continue with the city’s recovery process indefinitely.

“It’s hard to say what the next step is,” Montgomery said. “But there’s not going to be a time when we draw a line in the sand. We are in it for the long haul, for any recovery needed, and that’s not going to change.”

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