Fall 2007 Issue

Rescue Me

Help isn’t just needed in New Orleans. A group of Barry students spent their spring break renovating a double-wide trailer for a disabled South Carolina woman.

By Richard A. Webster

Barry University freshman Nelson Patterson had driven the roads of Greenville, South Carolina, many times while visiting his uncle and grandmother. Making his way through the small city that rests in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, he’d catch a glimpse of dilapidated homes in the poorer sections of town.

But he never gave the rundown houses much thought. They were just part of the passing scenery between point A and point B.

However, in recent months Patterson says he’s come to think a lot more about those houses and their inhabitants. Instead of doing the typical thing for spring break this year, Patterson signed up for Barry’s Alternative Spring Break, which sends students to impoverished communities and areas affected by natural disasters to help renovate homes, clean up trash and help in whatever way they can.

At the time Patterson signed up he had no idea where he would be going.

So it was “just a weird coincidence,” as he describes it, when he found himself standing in one of those rundown houses that had flashed briefly in the driver’s side window of his car during family drives. The home belonged to a disabled woman.

“I passed by houses like that all the time, but I never looked inside to see the living conditions,” said Patterson, who was one of a group of eight Barry students who made the trip to Greenville. “But on this trip, I got to look inside this woman’s house and it shocked me. It was not suitable for anyone to be living in, especially an old lady who is basically wheelchair bound. I got to see how poorly some people have to live and the struggle they face everyday trying to survive. They don’t have anybody to help them. It was indescribable.”

Sophomore Ana Acevedo, the assistant director for Alternative Spring Break, confirmed that the students in her group were shocked by the level of poverty in Greenville.

“They couldn’t believe that people actually lived that way,” noted the pre-med student. “But it wasn’t shocking for me because I’m from the Dominican Republic and poverty is something you have to confront every single day over there. I also volunteered in Haiti, which was even worse.”

The Greenville student volunteers worked with Homes of Hope, a local housing ministry dedicated to providing and renovating low-cost housing for the indigent. The woman whose home the students renovated was in her late 50s. She had suffered a debilitating back injury and was severely limited in her range of movement.

Her house, a double-wide trailer, was literally falling down around her, said Homes of Hope Director Ted Cochrane. The floor was collapsing in the middle and the roof was riddled with holes, he said.

Homes of Hope had been trying to find the woman a new home for years with little success until a local woman donated a trailer. Although structurally sound, the trailer needed to be completely renovated, Cochrane said.

That’s where the Barry University students came in.

Acevedo said they worked four days straight from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. rebuilding the walls, putting up siding and painting the interior.

The woman periodically came to check on the progress and couldn’t contain her joy.

“She was in tears almost every time we talked to her because she didn’t know what to say,” Patterson said. “She was so grateful and that made me feel good, that I was making an impact on someone’s life.”

Prior to leaving for the trip, Acevedo said several people asked her why the group was going to South Carolina to do volunteer work.

“People told me that they didn’t need any help there, but there are a lot of people that need help everywhere — like this woman. She was so grateful because she never imagined people would come all the way from Florida to help her out and give her a new home,” Acevedo said. “The thing that shocked me is that there weren’t more people that wanted to help her.”