For Undergrad, Alternative Spring Break Project Hits Close to Home

Tricia Interino portrait

Tricia Interino

Tricia Interino had just begun her junior year at The University of Texas at Dallas when Hurricane Harvey swept through her hometown of Missouri City, Texas.

The most powerful storm in more than a decade to hit mainland U.S. brought high winds, rain and flooding throughout the Houston metropolitan area. By the time it was over, the hurricane left $125 billion in damage, displaced more than 30,000 people and prompted more than 17,000 rescues.

Interino, a neuroscience major in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, was unable to get to Houston to help her family when the hurricane hit in August. They survived with their home intact, but Interino knew that even months later, thousands of other people would still be displaced.

So she decided to join other student volunteers in a UT Dallas Alternative Spring Break (ASB) project to lend a hand to first responders in Port Arthur and Beaumont.

“When I saw this ASB project, I didn’t need to scroll through anymore. I always wanted to do something. I just didn’t know how. I felt like I wanted to do more. I wasn’t able to be there to help when it happened. There’s still a lot of need,” Interino said.

Alternative Spring Break is an immersive week where student volunteers practice hands-on service, build leadership and relationship skills, and reflect on a social-service topic. Other ASB trips this year gave students opportunities to work in environmental conservation, global poverty and affordable housing.

“Our students want to affect meaningful change. The Alternative Spring Break program lets them see the impact they can have as they get their boots on the ground to provide team-based volunteer service that is focused on a particular social issue,” said Mackenzie Hunter, interim director of the Office of Student Volunteerism.

Volunteers for the disaster relief project partnered for a week with Community Collaborations, an agency in the Port Arthur/Beaumont area that provides relief for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

group of students pose with shovels during a break in their work

UT Dallas students on the Alternative Spring Break disaster relief project helped remove debris from property damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Students knocked out a garage wall, removed three ceilings and 20 bags of debris from a home damaged by flooding, and pulled up rotting floorboards.

They slept on cots in a gym and shared meals together.

Interino recalled her family’s experience after the hurricane left its mark.

Her parents’ home sits on a hill, but in the aftermath of the storm, floodwaters had surged up to the driveway. Their home lost electricity for a while, which meant her grandfather’s oxygen machine was cut off from power. Her parents spent a day cooking all the meat in the refrigerator and freezer so it wouldn’t spoil.

Throughout the ordeal, Interino and her sister, who lives in Irving, took turns checking in with their parents on FaceTime.

“Everybody moved upstairs, just in case,” Interino said. “My parents are very practical people. They had water stored and were figuring out backup plans. The stores were packed, but they were empty. People were trying to grab everything they could. My family didn’t lose their home, but they were boxed in for a while.”

Other neighbors weren’t so fortunate. Many had to be rescued and returned to homes that needed extensive repairs.

Interino said the hurricane recovery work gave her a sense of satisfaction in knowing she has helped others affected by the storm.

“The people who experienced these things deserve better," she said. "I wanted to pitch in and help wherever I could. This is my way to give back.

“I was humbled, and exposed to perspectives that are difficult to comprehend unless you stand in the broken, abandoned homes and cluttered yards of the neighborhoods impacted. It’s easy to forget that individuals are still impacted by the storm. The damage is still very real, and we still have so much to do.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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