Photo courtesy of Middlebury College
The Middlebury College women's tennis team joined the Vermont National Guard to help residents in Stockbridge.
After Tropical Storm Irene ripped through Vermont on Aug. 29, student-athletes and coaches from Middlebury College responded with shovels, bleach, buckets and countless hours of volunteer labor.
Most of Middlebury’s students had not yet arrived on campus in the days immediately following the storm, so the athletic teams put their shoulders to the plow to help the College’s neighbors.
Speaking on behalf of his coaching staff, Erin Quinn ‘86, director of athletics, said, “Middlebury is our town and Vermont is our home. This is where our kids go to school, where we work, where we shop, and where there are people we know and care about. We just had to get out there and help others. It’s not like a box we check off that says ‘community service.’ This is our home and we had to respond.”
The White River Valley towns on the east side of the college’s Snow Bowl were particularly hard hit, so on Sept. 3, members of four fall teams—field hockey, volleyball, cross-country, and football—went out to pick up debris from fallen trees, shovel out muck from basements, clear paths to people's homes and help residents sort through their wet belongings.
In the days and weeks that followed Irene, the women’s tennis team helped displaced homeowners in Stockbridge, men’s soccer players came to the aid of a flooded vegetable grower in New Haven, the swimming team pitched in at Silver Towers Camp for Exceptional Children in Ripton, and three teams (men’s and women’s ice hockey plus women’s basketball) cleared debris in agricultural fields in Proctor. And these were just a fraction of the College-sponsored relief efforts.
Also assisting were athletes and coaches from women’s soccer, men’s rugby, men’s tennis, skiing, softball, baseball, men’s squash and men’s lacrosse in places near, like East Middlebury, and far, like Windsor. Soon others joined in the effort, including Hillel, two OINK (i.e., outdoor adventures for first-year students) trips, the College’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and many individual students. Students from Wonnacott Commons went to Rutland to help the Red Cross break down cots and fold blankets from the temporary shelter there. The president’s office, facilities services and dining services cooperated in the College-wide effort that is still far from over.
A few days after classes began, a student-directed group called Midd Hurricane Relief formed with Jessica Appelson ’12, Lea Calderon-Guthe ’11.5, Firas Nasr ’15 and Ali Urgan ’12 in leadership roles. They quickly designed an “Irene Relief 2011” t-shirt, ordered 500 pieces and started selling them on campus for $15 with proceeds going toward Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. T-shirts are available at the Middlebury College Bookstore, the box offices in McCullough and Mahaney Center for the Arts, or the arts box office website (scroll down to "H" for hurricane.)
While appreciation for the efforts of students and staff has been widespread, the work continues. “It’s been nearly four weeks since Irene touched Vermont,” Tiffany Sargent said, “and the survivors of this terrible event are tired and frustrated and more than a little down-hearted. So when they see a carload of college students arriving to help, it lifts their spirits and lightens the atmosphere. It’s just so uplifting to see how we all came together to respond to this crisis.”
The waters of Vermont’s rivers have receded and most of the state's roads and bridges have reopened. But what about those sandbags the football team laid along Otter Creek in the first few days after the storm? Not a problem. The track team, coached by Martin Beatty ’84, is going to pick them up this weekend while other Middlebury students fan out across the region to help their fellow Vermonters in need.