UNK Students Volunteer Time Over Spring Break

Renee Ballenger

A group of UNK students spent their Spring Break in Greensburg, Kan.–once a town of 1,500, made famous, perhaps, only for the fact that it was nearly wiped out by an F5 tornado last May.

UNK students were there to help the townspeople in their continuing efforts to recover from the trauma of the violent natural disaster.

Accompanied by UNK AmeriCorps VISTA workers Vicki Singer and Stephen Jones, the students spent some of the time cleaning-up the massive amounts of debris still left over from nearly a year ago. They also helped with the construction of a Greensburg resident’s home.

Working through the South Central Kansas Tornado Recovery Organization (SCKTRO), they spent their last two days there hanging sheet rock in a farm home that had been hit hard by the storm.

“The owner was very nice, and she fed us lunch one day,” Singer said. “She really appreciated what we were doing, saying she just wanted to move back home. She has been living in a FEMA trailer.”

The devastating tornado that hit Greensburg killed 11 people and destroyed 95 percent of the town. The tornado peaked the scale with a designation of F5, the highest classification. According to a “National Geographic News” story, the F5 rating means that the tornado packed winds in excess of 200 miles an hour.

While most tornadoes that touch down measure only a few hundred yards across and remain on the ground for a few miles, the Greensburg tornado is thought to have been as much as two miles across and may have remained on the ground for 100 miles. To prepare students for what they might encounter, Jeff Lange, UNK counseling practitioner, made the group aware of the psychological and emotional responses possible in those they were going to serve, as well as reactions that could arise in themselves. Lange spoke on how to listen and respond to victims, and what to do if the disaster site became overwhelming for them.

The students who took part in the recovery efforts include: Justine Agaloos, a sophomore computer information systems major from New Jersey; David Scheer, a senior education major from Hershey; Debra Ecklund, a junior construction management major from Atkinson; Adam Shapmann, a sophomore, biology and business administration double major from Tilden; and Nathaniel White, a freshman math education major from Pierre, S.D.

The students stayed in the basement of the Haviland (Kansas) Friends Church, just 11 miles east of Greensburg. They cooked their own breakfast at the church, while lunches were provided by the Salvation Army, and dinners by the Volunteer Center. They showered in the high school locker rooms.

The Greensburg contingent also prepared for the trip by learning about the various facets of disaster relief. Relena Lyddon- Myers of the Kearney Red Cross office taught the students about the non-textbook situations they might encounter in a posttraumatic situation.

In addition, Dr. Ken Larson, construction management, informed the student workers about what it means that Greensburg is rebuilding “Green.” In other words, in all of the reconstruction efforts after the disaster, Greensburg citizens are attempting to use renewable and earth-friendly building materials, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) techniques. LEED implements a Green Building Rating System in providing tools for Green-building projects. The higher the ranking, the more the building project is environmentally-responsible. According to Singer, the Greensburg community plans for all of its facilities to be Platinum, which is the highest LEED rating.

One of the students, David Sheer, wrote of his experiences when he returned: “I learned more about life in that week than I have in any other experience that I have encountered, and it made me a better person.We went to Greensburg to help rebuild structures, but we helped rebuild people’s lives.”