After helping clean up tornado-stricken Joplin, Mo., a group of students from the School of Social Work drove through another disaster on their way back to Austin: the wildfires that devastated parts of Bastrop County.
They wanted to help but there wasn’t much they could do. The Bastrop area was still in crisis mode and relief agencies were taking care of immediate needs.
“There was this desire for purpose and to be there for the victims of the fire,” said Robbie Spears, a master’s student in Social Work. “There was a lot of energy, but nowhere to go with it.”
A few weeks later, they had their chance. A call came from Bastrop. Help was needed to clean up burnt-out home sites.
Spears, five other social work students and Dr. Calvin Streeter, social work professor, drove into the Tahitian Village subdivision to haul away metal objects — that hadn’t burned in the fire.
“Washers and dryers and refrigerators and stoves,” Streeter said. “They needed to get that stuff cleared out of there. So that’s what we did.”
The scene was surreal, Spears said. Several houses that were burned to the ground sat across the street from a house that had been untouched.
The first site they visited was the home of Steven and Joyce Barrett whose daughter, Carrie, coincidentally, had received a bachelor of social work degree from the university in 1996.
The volunteers wore full-face masks to protect themselves from breathing in ash as well as gloves. “It was hot, dirty, dusty and stinky work,” Streeter said. “But there’s no other way to clean that up.”
The Social Justice Action Coalition, a student group in the School of Social Work, is working on more volunteer efforts, Spears said. They include more cleanup and rebuilding as well as working with a group to find housing for people who were recently released from prison and whose homes had burned in the fire.
By Tim Green, University Communications
Photos by Melissa McChesney and Cal Streeter