CDC students to help Puerto Rico rebuilding efforts

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BENNINGTON — It's one thing to hear about the devastation of a natural disaster. It's another to see its effects firsthand.

That's how Brian Coon, building trades instructor at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, described his students' upcoming trip to Puerto Rico to work on homes that are still damaged from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in September 2017.

"They've already got five houses selected for us to work on," Coon said of the municipality his students will be working in, Las Marias. "I think it's incredible to hear how many people are still living under tarps. You don't realize how bad it is until you see it."

Students fly out Friday, April 12, spending school vacation week on the island.

Puerto Rico had no electricity, no water, no telecommunications and no transportation systems in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

More than 166,000 homes needed repair or reconstruction in the aftermath of the storm, according to FEMA.

This is the second year CDC students will be traveling to Puerto Rico. The initial trip was first suggested by Jim Goodine, currently chairman of the building trades advisory board.

"His wife is from Puerto Rico," Coon said of Goodine. "He had seen firsthand the devastation."

This year, eight students, all juniors and seniors, are scheduled to go on the trip — seven from building trades and one from video production, said Nicole Sauer, educational and community outreach coordinator for the Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District, in an email.

The video production student will document the effort, said Meg Honsinger, assistant director of the CDC.

Last year's trip involved five students helping with cleaning and repairing one home.

David Blay, a junior in the building trades program, said he's looking forward to visiting another country.

"Just something new," he said. "I've never been outside the country."

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And, he said, he's looking forward to helping people — as a cub scout and boy scout for years, he said, it's what he does.

"Helping people is second nature," he said. "They need it."

He said he hopes he'll get to do framing on the trip. "I'm excited to learn how to work with the metal roofing," he said.

In school, building trades students work on small, individual projects, he said, like the picture frame he's building. But working in the field, students can experience all the different parts of building a home, he said.

"It's a good opportunity, to go," said Dayna Weber, a junior, of the trip.

She said she's most looking forward to the students' anticipated time on the beach, the first day they arrive.

Senior Billy Baker said he thinks he'll mostly be working on roofs during the trip.

"They got blown off," he said. He's been a building trades student for between three and four years.

Students do not have to pay to participate in the trip.

"We don't want the money to be in the way of the kids' trip," Honsinger said.

Students will also get to learn more about different ways of building in their time on the island, Coon said.

"I think it's good for the kids to see — the way they build is different from the way we build," he said. "Here, you've got to build for snow load. There, they're building for wind and rain."

He's said he also hopes his students will learn more about language, food and culture in Puerto Rico.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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