With 'overwhelming' help, Union begins cleaning up

ORIGINALLY POSTED Feb 9, 2008

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Union University moved from crisis to recovery Feb. 8 as volunteer teams began cleaning up debris strewn by the Feb. 5 tornado and construction workers began rebuilding two major academic buildings.

"From the time the tornado hit on Tuesday, everyone is doing what they were designed to do to the best of their ability," said Josh Clarke, a Union alumnus and admissions coordinator for the university's pharmacy school.

Clarke said he has witnessed students, parents, faculty, staff, local residents and disaster relief veterans from Hurricane Katrina raking through the remains of the Jackson, Tenn., campus he continues to call home.

Larry Vaughn, director of Union's church relations department and coordinator for disaster relief volunteers, said about 500 people joined in the efforts in just the first day of the recovery phase.

"The response has been overwhelming from people all over the country," Vaughn said of people wanting to help Union after the tornado's devastation.

The volunteers currently are working to clear dorm rooms and faculty and staff offices, Vaughn said. Officials have set up a "bag and tag" system to recover students' belongings from demolished dorm rooms. Another priority on campus is removing all vehicles whether they can be driven or towed off campus.

Vaughn said volunteer opportunities would be opened up to the community beginning Feb. 11.

"We are taking names and numbers of people interested in volunteering, and we will call back," Vaughn said. "[The recovery] is going to be a long process and we need folks to help us with cleanup and feeding our volunteers and a number of other important functions.

"We are asking that people keep praying for us and keep volunteering and bringing needed items in."

Individuals interested in aiding in the recovery efforts should call Union's volunteer headquarters at 731-661-5160. They are asked to call before coming so coordinators are not overwhelmed and each volunteer is used effectively. For information regarding donations, interested persons should visit the www.uurecovery.com website.

Valerie Trautman, Union's director of donor relations who is among those serving at the general information desk, recounted, "Union's staff, along with emergency personnel, are going into the dorms and collecting everything that is salvageable and labeling [each bag] with what room it came out of.

"Then, we are collecting [the bags] in our two gymnasiums and establishing a process by which students can go and claim their belongings. We are doing as much as we can to get as much as we can out of the dorms."

Ronnie Smith, senior enrollment counselor at Union who has "bagged and tagged" student belongings for the last two days, recounted, "I came in the gym and could not believe it was this organized. I was expecting to find piles of stuff around the room.

"The cleanup around campus seems to be going smoothly, there are crews all over campus," Smith said.

Ashley Blair, assistant professor of communication and organizational leadership and director of extended learning and professional development, volunteered to take charge of a team to clear the offices of faculty and staff property as well as salvageable equipment from Jennings Hall.

The 500 volunteers on campus Friday were organized into 10 cleanup teams.

"I had a group of alumni who were ready to come," Blair said. "They know about the [advanced] equipment because they are graduates of the communication arts department. We had alums drive in from Memphis and Nashville, as well as some from the Jackson area."

Susan Pusser, a broadcasting alum from Benton, Ark., and her fellow alumni who cleared and cleaned the Jennings Hall classrooms recalled fond memories they had in those rooms.

"My husband [Daryl] and I met in Introduction to Production class in Jennings," Pusser said. The campus "holds a lot of memories for us. [The destruction] is heartbreaking."

Dacia Thomas, one of the volunteers on hand Feb. 8, rushed to the Union campus to be with her daughter and retrieve her belongings. Thomas is now serving as a volunteer in the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, organizing lists of high priority items.

"I needed to do something," Thomas said. "I was unable to do anything more in trying to retrieve my daughter's things, [and] her car was totaled. She was hoping to stay around campus and get some of her stuff. I was just not going to stand here when I could be an asset."


Alison Ball is a public relations student at Union University. Andrea Turner, senior English major, and Rebecca Williams, senior public relations major, contributed to this article.

Download Story