Sandy rebuild brings Spring Break students

College students are again trading spring break on the beach for hard work in New York and New Jersey as part of Sandy Rebuild. In this file photo, Brenda Mancilla (left), and Bianca Rivers toss debris from a Staten Island home into a dumpster as part of mud out efforts by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers in response to Hurricane Sandy. Mancilla, of Greer, S.C., is a student at Winthrop University and a member of Ministreio Internacional Nuevo Comienzo. Rivers, of Wagner, S.C., is a student at South Carolina State University and a member of New Mt. Zion Baptist Church. More than 500 students volunteered part of their winter breaks to work with SBDR volunteers last year. Registration for this year’s Sandy Rebuild effort is now open for spring breaks and summer. NAMB file photo by John Swain

By Sara Shelton

NEW YORK – One of the biggest parts of the continued Sandy Rebuild effort is the arrival of college students sacrificing their spring breaks to serve the people of Staten Island. This year Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers will welcome close to 200 students from more than six states over the course of two weeks to aid in the cleanup and rebuild work on the Island.

When Ronda and Randy Corn arrived in Staten Island, N.Y., in November 2012—just five days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall—they didn’t think they would still be there today.

“Randy and I have been here since the beginning,” Ronda Corn explains, “and we plan to stay until the end. There’s still such a mess here—homes are gutted and unlivable, people are displaced. Below the surface there is just so much hurt. Time has passed and media attention has faded, but the people here still need so much help.”

Serving under local construction team leaders and fellow SBDR volunteers, students will work on hanging sheet rock, tiling floors, hanging doors, putting up walls—anything to help homes become livable once again.

“The students work with a construction team leader and learn a lot about skilled labor,” Corn explains. “It’s hard work but really an awesome experience.”

The experience is a stark contrast to the way many college students spend spring break. SBDR built a volunteer village on a three-acre field on Staten Island, complete with shower, kitchen and water units. Students will camp in tents built specifically for Sandy Rebuild workers. With New York closing out one of its roughest winter’s yet, volunteers face the difficult challenge of braving the elements.

“Weather conditions this season haven’t made our work easy, and we’ve tried to prepare students for the potential wet and cold weather we’ve seen all season,” Corn says. “They’re all still excited to serve. For all of us, it’s not about the project itself; it’s about the people. That’s been our motto from day one, and keeping the hearts of the people we’re serving in mind has helped tremendously on the difficult days.”

It’s not just the hearts of the people they’re serving, but the hearts of the college students as well that the Corns and their team hope to see changed.

“Our main goal is that the gospel goes out to the people, both the ones we’re serving in Staten Island and the college students here doing the work,” Corn says. “There are opportunities for the body of Christ to minister both inside and outside our camp.”

Just last year the Corns met a student named Belle. Though she didn’t know Christ, she signed up to serve with her fellow students. She returned to her campus after the week with a new curiosity about Christ and, after talking with her group leader, placed her faith in Christ. This year, Belle is returning to serve and share what Christ did in her life through service to Staten Island last year.

“It’s an incredible story,” Corn says. “This girl came to know Christ, and since then, has been walking with her roommate as she begins to seek Christ in her own life. She’s even kept in touch with the homeowners she served last year, helping point them to Christ as well. Just one story like this—one soul coming to know the Lord through serving here—that makes all the difference.”

Students have virtually year-round service opportunities now with Sandy Rebuild. To explore more about assisting in New York, visit

From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC’s 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund via Other ways to donate are to call 866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board.


Published March 11, 2014