Students reflect on Puerto Rico rebuild

BENNINGTON — In March, five students and two faculty members from the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center traveled to Puerto Rico to assist with the rebuilding effort in the wake of Hurricane Maria. On Monday, they shared their experiences.

The students who made the trip were Matt Mould, Vinnie Redcross, Tyler Prouty, Will Secoy, and Sienna McFaline. Mould, Redcross, Prouty and Secoy are part of the Building Trades program, and McFaline is in the Video Production program. They were joined by CDC assistant director Meg Honsinger and Building Trades paraeducator Rich Ryder. The group left on Saturday, March 17 and returned the following Sunday. They were part of a group of about 20 people from Bennington, organized by Jim Goodine and Habitat for Humanity, who joined volunteers from across the country working on repairing homes in Las Marias, Puerto Rico.

"The students displayed not only skills but professionalism, the desire to do their jobs, and not just do them, they wanted to really do them well," said Honsinger. "Their efforts were commendable, they represented us as a school that produces professional students that can go right out into the field. You should be proud of them."

The CDC's Building Trades has worked with Habitat for Humanity of Bennington County on multiple projects over the last several years, including building sheds and working on a build site for a three-story home.

McFaline debuted her documentary about the trip at Monday's meeting of the CDC board, as did Ryan Scutt of Catamount Access Television, who also accompanied the students.

"Jim Goodine's wife's family lives in Puerto Rico," said Ryder in McFaline's video. "They came down to assess the damage. What Jim saw was obviously devastating. We are here six months after, and it was probably a lot worse than what we're witnessing, but it's bad enough now."

"I'm honored and privileged that they asked me to come as well to assist in this," said Ryder. "It's an experience for me, and I can guarantee you this: When I think I'm going to complain, I'm going to think of the people in Puerto Rico and I probably will not, because my worries and concerns are absolutely nothing to what these people have gone through and are continuing to go through... The work is far from done."

"We came here to work and to help the people of Puerto Rico the best we could," said Secoy. "My main job was cutting the plywood, pressurized four by eight pieces of plywood for the roof." He said his favorite parts of being there were helping people and the scenery, which he said was amazing.

"I really want to thank the board for allowing us to go," said Honsinger. "Some of the students had never flown before... The were the best students I've ever taken on a field trip, and to say that after spending a full week with them, that's a lot, I don't think any of us ever got annoyed with one another." She also thanked the parents for allowing their children to participate.

One of the houses they worked on had lost its roof six months earlier, and had not yet been repaired. "Pretty much every day in Puerto Rico, in the afternoon, it rains," said Ryder. "It could be 20 minutes, it could be an hour. Imagine not having a roof, but having a tarp, which eventually from the sun and elements is going to break down and leak, for six months, you live like that."

"It's nice to see the group represent Bennington so well," said CDC board member Ken Swierad on Monday. "We really appreciate it, thank you."

"There was a retired contractor who was part of the Habitat for Humanity Group," said Ryder. "Every night we sat down, we had a meeting after dinner as to what went well, what didn't go well, and what we're going to do tomorrow, so everybody had a sense of direction. In the middle of this, this gentleman stood up and he said, 'I just want you to know, I no longer have my business, but if I did I would not hesitate to hire any one of these students to be on my crew.' He said, 'I am extremely impressed with their knowledge and with the way they handle themselves.' So, I was very proud of them."

Honsinger praised building trades instructor Brian Coonradt and video production instructor Tim Foley. "These two teachers have done wonders," she said. "To see the students out in the field doing what they love and doing what they have learned to do was unbelievable."

The students all agreed that they hoped to do future volunteer work.

"I think I can speak on behalf of the board," said Chairman Rickey Harrington. "You folks should be very, very proud of yourselves, and we are extremely proud of you. I tear up just thinking about it, it's very emotional. Thank you."

Bennington's efforts to help with the rebuild aren't over. "Jim Goodine is continuing to raise money for people in Puerto Rico," said Scutt. "We're actually still building roofs remotely by funding local contractors, so we're giving people jobs, even if its only for a few days or a week at a time. Since the trip we've actually been able to complete a couple more roofs with the money we've raised through the fundraisers."

Anyone interested in making a donation to further the work can send a check to the Bennington County Habitat for Humanity, PO Box 1159, Manchester, VT 05254, noting "Vermont to Puerto Rico" on the check. "Or they can send it to me at CAT, with the same notation," Scutt said. He added that there will be a screening of the documentary on June 6 at 6 p.m. in the Laumeister Art Center. "We'll be raising funds there, too."

Derek Carson can be reached at, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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