The flooding lasted just days in Columbia, South Carolina, last October. But the recovery is far from over.
Volunteers are still helping rebuild the area hit by nearly 20 inches of rain — causing 11 deaths and leaving many homeless.
The national concern and the media stories made it an easy decision for members of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Student Fellowship on where to spend this year’s spring break.
"Seeing the destroyed houses really got to me," said junior Maddi Baugous of Lincoln. "To see these homes and think that no one can live in them. There was and still is so much to be done."
Water continues to saturate houses. Mold conceals entire exteriors. Roofs on houses are caved in.
For three days Baugous and her fellow students painted a house after scraping off and washing away mold; replaced doors; restructured a collapsing roof to ensure its stability—all for a single flood survivor. Though the home renovation is nowhere near completion, the three days of reconstruction were visibly evident as NWU students embarked on the next leg of their South Carolina service trip.
Students also had the opportunity to visit the state capitol where they were recognized for the flood cleanup efforts. The group was personally thanked by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
The spring break trip also provided an opportunity for the group to visit Charleston. Their initial plans included a visit to Emmanuel African Methodist Church where nine people were gunned down last summer. The students had hoped to participate in civil rights conversations with church members.
Katie Todd, University Ministries associate who accompanied the students, said church members are shaken and the church is under increased security. Students learned that several members of the congregation are hesitant to return to the building.
"It's been nearly a year, but people still treat the shooting like it happened yesterday—people still show their support," said Emily Andera, a junior from Arizona who noted the many flowers and notes that visitors continue to leave at the church. "The families reacted with forgiveness and love instead of hate. A truly remarkable response to show mercy to someone who has caused them so much pain."
Students received endless gratitude from the South Carolina residents for their week of service. They know there’s much work to be done.
"I was so grateful to work on a project like this," said junior Sydney Wergin of Aurora. "There are still so many people who don't have the help they need."
"The experience was humbling," Andera added. "Things can happen—things can change—but you have to take it for what it is. I felt empowered no matter if the action turned out big or small."
Todd said she couldn't be happier about the students' work.
"I was so proud of the students' humility and excitement to do this work, and the way they represented the university," she said. "Every person we helped while in South Carolina we took a little piece of Wesleyan and gave it to them."
Story by Quinn Hullett, public relations intern