Mission Viejo native travels to Boulder to help the victims of last year’s devastating floods.
By Brooke Edwards Staggs, Staff Writer for the Orange County Register
MISSION VIEJO – College spring break is meant for making memories, and that proved true for Ryan Beaulac.
The Mission Viejo native spent his vacation traveling with 25 other University of Redlands students to Boulder, Colo., to help families affected by September’s historic floods.
“I felt I was ready for it. I had an open mind,” said Beaulac, 19, a sophomore studying accounting. “As for the damage, I wasn’t expecting it to be that bad.”
More than 17 inches of rain fell near Boulder in September, including one day with more than 9 inches. The flooding that resulted claimed eight lives, destroyed hundreds of miles of road, wiped out about 1,800 homes and damaged nearly 20,000 more, according to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
The devastation pushed Colorado to the top of the list as a candidate for the University of Redlands’ spring break outreach program.
Each year since a team went to help in 2006 with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the university has invited students to spend their spring break volunteering in communities that have suffered natural disasters or have a particular need. It’s called Spring Break Plunge, with the university picking up half the tab during trips to places such as Joplin, Mo., after the 2011 tornado, and New York after Hurricane Sandy.
While the long-term impact of those disasters seemed to still be getting a lot of press, Erin Sanborn, associate director of community service learning at the University of Redlands, felt the Colorado flooding had been overlooked.
“In Colorado, the disaster area was huge and there just wasn’t much in the news about it,” she said.
Sanborn connected with Community Collaborations International, a nonprofit organization that already had a team working on the ground in Colorado. Together, they planned an opportunity for University of Redlands students to join in on the recovery effort.
Beaulac is a member of groups that perform community services such as playing sports with disabled children, writing letters to military service members and clearing trails in wilderness conservation areas. When he heard about Spring Break Plunge, he jumped at the chance.
“I actually love doing community service,” said Beaulac, a graduate of Capistrano Valley High School, “and to help out a community that’s been affected by the flood I thought would be really fun and eye-opening for me rather than sitting and watching TV.”
Before they left, students met to get background on the disaster area and to create a mission statement about what they hoped to accomplish. They also received basic training in appropriate skills, ranging from how to drill a hole to hanging drywall.
“We never really know what we’re going to be doing until we wake up that morning and they send us out to the job,” Sanborn said.
On past trips, students have helped rebuild homes, but Colorado is “still at the debris-clearing state,” Sanborn said.
Beaulac and his teammates spent a week removing chunks of fallen trees and mucking out homes, removing insulation where mold had taken root. It was physical work, Beaulac said, leaving them exhausted at the end of each day.
“It didn’t seem like you were doing much sometimes,” Beaulac said. “But then you realize every stick or tree you pick up, that’s one less stick or tree a community member has to (pick up) .”
Some students go in with huge expectations about changing the world, Sanborn said. When they’re asked to help pick up a pile of sticks, it helps them realize the scope of the recovery effort, with a group of dedicated people making a difference by doing a series of small, monotonous tasks.
“It’s not about doing this incredibly glorious work,” Sanborn said. “It’s about doing what is asked of you.”
Beaulac joined a Facebook group for the organization still working on the Colorado recovery effort, so he can stay updated on their progress. He plans to apply for another Spring Break Plunge trip next year, no matter where it takes him.
“It’s very eye-opening for me to see that there’s always people that are going to need help, especially in natural disaster situations,” Beaulac said. “It makes me want to work harder and try to reach out more when a natural disaster happens because, after seeing that and their faces when volunteers came, it was just so heartwarming.”
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