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Northfield experiences a 'flood of help'

By Kaitlin Nelson
On September 13, 2011


Disaster strikes. Flood waters rush down the streets and hills causing incredible amounts of damage.

Tropical Storm Irene's deluge on Sunday, Aug. 28, the day before Norwich opened for the 2011 fall semester, had swollen Vermont's rivers and valleys. It resulted in many of the residents and businesses in Northfield and surrounding communities to lose almost, if not all, of their possessions.

Fortunately, the Norwich University campus was relatively untouched by this storm and classes started on time. But students and staff have turned out in droves to assist local communities with repairing the extensive damage.

"We are responding to residents in crisis, as a result of Hurricane Irene, all the flooding, so we are working very closely with town officials and with local community coordinators to assess what the needs are of the town, the residents and the local businesses. It is our hope to meet those needs as well as possible through our students, faculty and staff volunteers," said Nicole DiDomenico, director of civic engagement and campus climate.

Her office has set up a massive volunteer effort to assist residents in need in Northfield and surrounding communities.

DiDomenico has enlisted the staff in her office and those efforts were joined by Kevin Beal, director of alumni and residency for the school of graduate and continuing studies.

 "Right now I am working with the center for civic engagement and Nicole DiDominico to help supply support for whatever she needs for the volunteer efforts right now," Beal said.

The Center of Civic Engagement's staff is constantly busy, the office bustling with the continuous flow of students coming in to volunteer, along with fulfilling their regular duties.

"We've done over (several thousand) hours worth of volunteer hours," said DiDomenico, attesting to the work and effort being put in to this project, "and the help will not stop anytime soon. This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. So we are going to be assisting with this help for months and possibly years to come."

According to Beal, "The volunteer hours that have been worked will be helpful when the community here applies for (aid from) FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).

"The volunteer hours that we have put in will mean a lot, as far as dollars for this community later," he said.

FEMA handles the federal efforts for disaster response or relief. It is sending a coordination team to assess the damage and provide both individual assistance and municipal assistance needed to return communities back to normal.

The Norwich community is very willing to put in these hours and the effort.

"We are sending well over 100 students each day (to volunteer in town) especially over the weekend," said DiDomenico.

"They've been helping in Waterbury, Roxbury, Northfield Falls, but our primary focus has been to help the residents of Northfield," she said, "mainly along Water Street, Union Street, Summer Street, Western Ave, and the Tucker Trailer Park."

"Students are mucking out basements; one of the houses I went into they were doing the water relay thing, with buckets of mud that were coming up and they were throwing it out on the lawn," said Beal.

"We removed refrigerators, dishwashers, couches, chairs and things that had been waterlogged and ruined," he continued, "putting them out on the curb so that they could be out of the people's houses because they need to dry those houses out. Appliances and some of the furniture were destroyed and no longer useable."

"It's good to know that when we have a need we have a lot of volunteers. There are a lot of students willing to help at the drop of a hat," said DiDomenico.

Volunteering is not the only way in which Norwich is assisting the community.

People have donated cases of water, cleaning supplies and equipment that students are required to use for their safety, including gloves, masks and trash bags.

"The outpouring of the community and the neighboring communities has been unbelievable," DiDomenico said. "I've never witnessed anything so heart-warming as the response that I've seen to this community's needs and we've even had parents of current students come down and roll up their sleeves to help out."

"I was so proud of the students here at Norwich, the athletic teams, students in the corps (and) students who came on their own downtown," said Rowly Brucken, associate professor of history. "Many of whom I know, and to work alongside them in that kind of environment knowing they were there purely out of humanitarian concern was very inspiring and so I applaud all of them for the hard work and dedication that they showed to people."

"We have been very impressed with the caliber of professionalism and respect that our students have been giving the community," DiDomenico said. "We would expect nothing less, but they have really followed through. Not only are they showing up and doing the work, but they are doing it with a smile, and that just means the world to this town."

Town residents are grateful for the assistance. "The workers have been absolutely wonderful," Carolyn Fernandez told a Burlington Free Press reporter. "And those cadets," she said. "They not only do it, they do it with a smile on their faces."

If you would like to help in the effort and volunteer, you can contact the Center for Civic Engagement at or visit them upstairs in the Wise Campus Center. Many communities in the area still need some assistance.

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