As Hurricane Irma recovery efforts continue in Southwest Florida, FGCU students have been putting what they learn in the classroom to work in the real world to help Southwest Floridians get back on their feet.
In the storm’s wake, students were quick to respond to the community’s needs by distributing food and water at St. Matthew’s House in Naples and cleaning up debris at the Naples Botanical Garden, The Lighthouse of SWFL and other locations.
Knowing that folks still remain in four public shelters in the five-county region weeks after Irma’s landfall, a quartet of Eagles inspired by their “Foundations of Civic Engagement” class organized and executed a relief effort to deliver comfort kits to those individuals through the American Red Cross. Teaming up with the Office of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, they collected donations of personal-care products and purchased additional supplies with $2,000 in funding from the FGCU Foundation. With friends, roommates and members of the Alpha Tao Omega fraternity — who had incorporated the project in their Rush Week recruitment activities — they gathered Oct. 3 to assemble about 200 packages containing items such as toothbrushes, disposable razors, travel-size toiletries, first-aid kits and hand sanitizer.
“These are basic necessities that everyone should have, but they can’t just go out and get,” said project leader Chelsea Mills, a junior journalism major from Fort Lauderdale. “We want them to know there’s a brighter day coming.”
Mills and classmates Sashia Fraley, Neilyn Labori and Marina Tweed worked “night and day,” she said, to organize and implement the project in the two weeks since classes resumed post-Irma.
“We’re all passionate about trying to help people, and we wanted to do it a timely manner,” said Fraley, a junior biology major from Englewood. “It’s important to get into the community and see it coming together,” she said of FGCU’s award-winning service-learning program.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support and the people who want to give,” Mills said between interviews with local TV stations that covered the kit-packing event. “We’re already talking about how we can take this to the next level.”
Their “Foundations of Civic Engagement” instructor, Brandon Hollingshead, said he couldn’t be more proud of how quickly and effectively the students turned their ideas and community spirit into action.
“It’s the heart of what it means to be an FGCU student, to do service-leaning and to live out the mission of FGCU,” he said.