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Volunteers pave way to healing of JSU students after March 19 Alabama storms

With the havoc left by tornadoes and severe storms, many Jacksonville residents are facing many uncertainties after losing homes and possessions.

There’s been some uneasiness, as well, for students at Jacksonville State University (JSU), where some Gamecocks feared they’d return to a decimated campus. Even more so, many international students had the additional concern of trying to replace belongings lost to the storm.

But volunteers for the Center for Service and Leadership at the University of Alabama are helping ensure that Jacksonville students can return to class on April 9. A poster implored students to help: “Jacksonville State shouldn’t have to do it alone. Let’s help our neighbors.”

Many residents and students have long memories of the drastic hits on the community by F-5 tornadoes on April 11, 2011. There’s a strong empathy for the Jacksonville community.

“Remember, we were dealing with the same thing in Tuscaloosa a few years ago,” said Courtney Thomas, director of the Center for Service and Leadership.

The center took donations of air mattresses, cereal, cleaning supplies, dish soap, duct tape, dust pans, jelly, rakes, scrub brushes, laundry detergent, packing tape, peanut butter, plastic bins, ponchos, push brooms and zip ties.

On Saturday, March 31, about 50 University of Alabama students descended on Hugh Merrill Hall at the JSU campus. There, the volunteers painted, set new floor tiles, removed old office furniture and cleaned the building so the dean of the business school and other faculty can move in. Jacksonville State Facility Services employees and others helped spruce up the space.

Bama volunteers will return April 7 to finish cleaning and touch up any areas on the two floors where students will return to classes.

“It’s a good feeling,” Thomas said, “being able to help them. We’ve been there.”
For many JSU students, concerns about tests or selecting an exotic locale for spring break were eclipsed by the EF3 tornado on March 19.

Several international students, some of whom lived off-campus, lost almost everything they owned. But, thanks to efforts by members of the Eastern Division Chapter of the Alabama Service Organization (APSO) and the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, life will soon be a little easier.

“We want to make things better for these international students with critical needs,” said Varnestra Jones, Eastern APSO 2018 president. “We are just thankful they were on spring break during the storms, it was pretty bad. The fact no one was killed is a real blessing.”

On April 3, Eastern Division Communications Specialist Jacki Lowry and Jones mobilized for a morning Walmart run. Armed with a long supply list from the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, Jones and Lowry each pulled a shopping cart. They were quickly loaded down with backpacks, deodorant, 11 comforter sets, first-aid kits, pillows, snacks, suitcases, stationary products, 25 toothbrushes and toothpaste, and 16 towel sets.

“We tried to purchase brightly colored towels in peach and teal for the ladies, and gray and blue for the guys,” said Jones, Eastern Division training coordinator. “They’re young – we want to brighten up their day.”

The next day, Jones and Lowry, joined by Kiyunda Smoot, manager of Alabama Power‘s Jacksonville business office, packed the items into an SUV and delivered them for later distribution by the Chamber of Commerce.

Eastern APSO, along with the Jacksonville subchapter, provided 10 Walmart gift cards so students can buy essentials.

Jones said that APSO members realize the storm was especially trying for JSU students without family members in Alabama, who are trying to deal with replacing daily necessities.

“We are glad that we are able to help, but we don’t want our efforts to stop here,” said Jones, who has worked for Alabama Power for 17 years. “We’re looking to make repairs and help paint during a JSU cleanup day.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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