Melrose Fellows Help Rebuild Houston Home

They spent one of the first weeks of their summer vacation working on a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

More than 200,000 homes were damaged and 12,000 were destroyed during the summer 2017 hurricane.

The trip to Houston was a last-minute shift in plans after a trip to volunteer at a school in a low-income community in Granada fell through due to ongoing protests and travel warnings. The Melrose fellows began looking for other opportunities for meaningful and immersive experiences and were excited to hear from an Ursinus alumna, Mary Holmcrans ’17, about a chance to make a difference in Houston.

Holmcrans is a fellow with We Repair the World, a service organization that works to create impactful volunteering and education opportunities. Through Holmcrans, the fellows learned about Act Now Houston, which allows volunteers to work side-by-side with Houstonians to rebuild homes that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

The Melrose fellows also worked closely with the organization SBP (originally St. Bernard’s Parish), which rebuilds homes for those who lack insurance for building costs after natural disasters strike.

“Volunteering with SBP offered a very rewarding opportunity to contribute to ongoing efforts to help Houstonians recover from the devastating impact of last August’s Hurricane Harvey, efforts that continue to be much needed, especially since many of the initial relief efforts have ended,” said Rebecca Evans, an associate professor of politics and co-director for the Melrose Center.

“For the Melrose fellows, this represented an important opportunity to come together and help address a major challenge. While the Melrose Center is committed to designing an international experience for these students—together with the new 2021 Melrose fellows cohort—this opportunity permitted the 2020 Melrose fellows to translate their classroom discussions into direct, hands-on, meaningful service in keeping with the Melrose Center’s and the college’s commitment to transformative education.”

The fellows spent seven days working on a single home, starting with stripping the house of appliances, drywall, and insulation before treating for mold and eventually placing new subfloors and drywall, and then prepping the walls and ceilings for paint.

“While on site, we considered the various questions we discussed in class: Is this service sustainable? Are we being culturally self-aware and respectful? Off site, we reflected on our experiences in relation to these ideas, giving us the chance to challenge our individual assessments of our work and have some more holistic reflection,” said Garrett Bullock ’20. “We worked together to support a useful service organization, explored the context surrounding our volunteering from an ethical perspective, and ultimately became more aware of the issues facing our society and others like it.”

Evans explained, “We worked with a terrific site supervisor, who told us that our contributions meant that the homeowner would be able to move back into her home almost a month earlier than scheduled. In addition, we got to explore a bit of Houston and the surrounding area, including visits to NASA Space Center and the beach on Galveston Island.”

The Melrose Center, named for the late U.S. Ambassador Joseph H. Melrose, Jr., seeks to develop future global leaders through unprecedented learning opportunities that will allow students to engage with global leaders to help enact social change. –By Mary Lobo ’15