Volunteers Help Dig Out Montecito

The sanctuary at Casa de Maria (photo by Chris Hoeckley)

The sanctuary at Casa de Maria (photo by Chris Hoeckley)

Dozens of Westmont students, faculty and staff, part of the Student Community Response Team (SCRT), supervised children’s activities at Cold Spring School, and cleaned up debris at Montecito Union School, the Montecito YMCA, several homes and Casa de Maria over the weekend Feb. 3-4. The student-led group was created in the wake of the deadly Jan. 9 mudslides.

About 40 volunteers, donning boots and armed with shovels, headed to Casa de Maria, site of several Westmont faculty retreats. The workers included Mary Logue, director of library and information services, Elizabeth Gardner, assistant professor of communication studies, Carmen McCain, assistant professor of English, Dave Rubio, public safety officer, Cheri Larsen Hoeckley, professor of English, and Chris Hoeckley, director of the Gaede Institute for Liberal Arts and assistant professor of philosophy.

After a welcome by Director Steve Jacobson, they were mobilized across the site, several to one sleeping room, where they shoveled tirelessly through the day. “There were two feet of very wet mud that felt like wet concrete, but filled with debris,” says Chris Hoeckley, who had attended monthly silent Saturday prayer retreats at Casa de Maria. “It was back-breaking and tedious, and it felt like we weren’t making much progress. But we forged ahead thinking that when it dries it will be impossible to shovel.”

The western third of the Casa de Maria campus avoided damage from the mudslide and remains beautiful. “The oak grove, orange orchard and labyrinth are untouched, but from the sanctuary to the east, there was effectively nothing left,” Hoeckley says “It will recover, but it will take a long time. We had concrete evidence of our progress, but it seemed tiny compared to what needed to be done at the one site.”

Students Lyndall Stephenson and Travis Walker

Students Lyndall Stephenson and Travis Walker

Angela D’Amour, director of campus life, spent the day on Tiberon Bay Road digging out a home engulfed in five feet of mud. “My experience was profound,” she said. “We dug out most of the house. However the yard was still coated, covering cars, etc. I spent most of my time in a true bucket brigade line moving the mud out of the house. The home owners were there trying to salvage what they could of their belongings and were deeply grateful for the volunteers. It was pretty amazing to be working side by side with local strangers who showed up simply because they care and there was a need.”

Students Korbin Breeden, Justin Packham and Sarah Verdegan

Students Korbin Breeden, Justin Packham and Sarah Verdegan

Student Korbin Breeden joined other students at Montecito Union removing wood chips from a play structure. Later they served at the YMCA, removing trees and branches in the way of paths and streams. “I decided to volunteer both as a member of the SCRT committee but also as a follower of Christ,” he says. “We have a duty to serve our neighbors and be the hands and feet of Christ working in the community. It was a powerful experience, and I would do it again.”

Student Lyndall Stephenson, who also served at Montecito Union and the YMCA, volunteered as a way to give back to the Montecito community. “I know that many in our community of Montecito are deeply hurting,” She says. “The experience was good. I am planning on helping next weekend digging out homes. I think this will be a lot more emotionally taxing though, as I will see the destruction of the mudslides up front.”

Student Justin Packham helped get the bark into a dumpster at Montecito Union. “It was awesome to see so many people out helping the community,” he says. “It really shows what an amazing area we live in. One of our professors, Dr. Tom Knecht, came down and helped out too, which was super cool.”

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