Campus Life

Students help rebuild Joplin, Mo. during alternative spring break trip

Nine students from the University of West Florida (UWF) spent their spring break volunteering to help those affected by severe weather in Missouri. The Alternative Spring Break team (ASB) departed from Pensacola on March 16 for a week-long volunteerism road trip.

The UWF ASB program with Volunteer UWF! is part of a nonprofit organization called “Break Away: The Alternative Break Connection,” whose mission is to train, assist and connect campuses and communities in promoting quality alternative break programs that inspire lifelong active citizenships.

This year’s trip focused on working with Americorp and Rebuild Joplin to restore Joplin, Mo. after an EF4 tornado, the second strongest classification with winds higher than 165 mph, devastated small-town Joplin last May. Although recovery and rebuilding has been underway, debris still lies around in piles, providing an eerie reminder of the disaster the town suffered.

“The city still looks like the event happened yesterday,” said Djhenne Dalmacy, a mathematics student in her junior year at UWF. “The ruined hospital and the large amount of empty space that was once occupied by homes is really devastating.”

Dalmacy, originally from Haiti, survived devastating flooding that hit her hometown of Gonaives caused by Hurricane Jeanne in September 2004. She and her family climbed on the roof of their concrete home to seek safety from the rapidly rising water.

“Given that I am a survivor of natural disaster myself, I couldn’t think of anything better than to join the UWF ASB organization on this adventure,” she said.

When the group arrived in Joplin, their job was to help move debris to a more accessible area to be hauled away to allow for rebuilding in certain areas. More than 200 volunteers from different universities and organizations worked together to form an assembly line in order to move the debris faster.

“My favorite experience was seeing people from many different states join together to accomplish one goal,” said Dalmacy.

The students worked long days and in not-so-pleasant weather, including heavy rains. They stayed at a ranch just outside of Joplin in Oklahoma to experience a bit of the countryside, according to a few of the students.

“The third day in Joplin it was raining on us. We were exhausted and carrying heavy debris, but I didn’t care. We didn’t care,” said Tanairis Buenrostro, a freshmen criminal justice student at UWF. “We did what we could to help. The selfless experience was the best I could ask for.”

In addition, the group stopped in Louisiana once they left Pensacola to assist in painting a house that withstood Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in New Orleans in 2005. There was a water stain nearly eight feet high on the outside of the house that the students helped to cover with paint.

“We put a smile on other’s faces and bring hope where there is none,” said Dalmacy about the ASB organization at UWF. “We take pride in making a difference.”

For more information about ASB or Volunteer UWF!, visit