Students rebuild instead of relax

March 2, 2009 4:28:50 PM PST
Thousands of college students are expected to fill Galveston Island for Spring Break, but not all of them will be there for a party.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Steve Gearhart is on Spring Break and he's having fun in the sun, even though he's sandblasting and working nearly 10 hours a day. It's all part of the effort to help rebuild Galveston homes.

"People forgot about you. There's still lots to be done. You're still rebuilding, you're still recovering. We're still gutting houses, you're even not to rebuilding yet," Gearhart said. "You're still gutting houses that are moldy and just getting worse by the day."

Steve and his classmates are from St. Bonventure University near Buffalo, New York.

Volunteer Cristal Mota said, "It just seemed like the right thing to do to come here, seeing how they were helpless."

These volunteers are preparing old surplus bunk beds, used after Katrina, for a surge of Spring Break volunteers expected during the next two months.

"It makes you feel that Galveston County hasn't been forgotten, certainly, with regards to the devastation of Hurricane Ike and also makes you feel good there's such an amazing youth population that wants to come in and serve," said Erin Toberman with Help for Galveston.

Help for Galveston is a local nonprofit group created after Hurricane Ike. They partner with 25 other local nonprofit and faith based organizations with a unified goal to restore and rebuild Galveston.

"Any help I get I would greatly appreciate it, because I'm just not in a position to do it myself right now," said hurricane victim Joann Swindell.

Swindell lived in her house for 46 years. She lost everything and now lives in a FEMA house parked in her front yard. Her home is scheduled to be rebuilt by volunteers organized by a local pastor whose own church on the west end was destroyed.

Island Community Church Pastor Jim Booth explained, "Very few people had adequate flood insurance on this island, and that's the problem. They had a lot of wind storm but not a good flood insurance. So many are in the same situation I'm in."

For Steve and his classmates, they'll stay at University Church where the sanctuary is now a dorm.

"We've shut our church down as a typical everyday Sunday church and our entire focus and goal right now is to bring people in from all over the United States, which we have. Thousands have already come through this facility," explained University Church Pastor Billy Graff.

Thousands have helped since the hurricane and thousands more are expected in the next few weeks. Organizers say it's hard to have an exact count, but they expect between 7,000 and 10,000 students coming in the next couple of months to help.

Individuals and families may sign up for case management by calling:

  • Catholic Charities - 409-942-4324
  • Grace Commnunity Service - 1-877-839-1744
  • Mainland Children's Partnership - 409-643-8240
  • United Methodist Church - 832-370-3100
  • Galveston County Restore and Rebuilld assists families in Galveston County impacted by Hurricane Ike to reconstruct their homes and rebuild their lives. Priority service is given to low income families, elderly , disabled, and those with single parents.

    To check Galveston County's recovery efforts, visit

          Headline check | 100 most recent local stories | News alerts
                Slideshow archive | ABC13 wireless | Help solve crimes