Rebuilding tornado-ravaged home town

05 November 2014

A UC international student used her Christchurch experiences to help support her home town of Washington, Illinois.

Rebuilding tornado-ravaged home town

Jessica Weston

A University of Canterbury international student, who took the CHCH101: Rebuilding Christchurch course modelled after the Student Volunteer Army's post-earthquake response, used her Christchurch experiences to help support her home town of Washington, Illinois, which was flattened by a tornado.

Jessica Weston will outline her volunteering experiences in Christchurch and Washington when she speaks to the second annual New Zealand Tertiary Community Engagement Summit at the University of Canterbury on 24 November.

"Rebuilding Christchurch was the main reason I was confident in my skills to bring immediate relief effort to my community after the tornado hit. Learning about Canterbury’s Student Volunteer Army really inspired me. It showed the world the impact young adults can have,’’ Weston says.

"Many friends and family reached out to me when they heard the news the tornado that hit my hometown saying they were sorry and asking if there was anything they could do to help. The tornado that hit Washington damaged or destroyed 1000 homes.

"My initial reaction was shock; pictures were posted showing the devastation of my hometown that made my stomach drop. After receiving confirmation my family and friends were alive I called my close friend who is from Washington and began to brainstorm ideas on ways we could help. I felt a sense of urgency to get home to help. 

"At first I wanted to start my own volunteer army however they were regulating the traffic into town and only allowing those that lived on the streets into the neighbourhoods. I turned to my University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign community to aid my home town.

"With help from others, I initiated a Fill the Truck campaign. We collected food and the most needed supplies to aid those that lost everything. We also collected money to aid the families.

"We used Facebook to drive momentum for the event. I was constantly posting photos of how much we had collected each day and this encouraged more people to want to increase that amount. We reached out to every campus club we thought could help and spoke to community members to raise awareness about the campaign.

"We put donation boxes in as many campus locations as we could and worked until the late hours every night sorting and boxing the donated supplies. The response we received from my campus community was unbelievable. At the end of the week-long campaign we filled a big truck full of supplies. Volunteers at the shelter were blown away with how much we brought.

"I could not be more thankful for taking Dr Billy O’Steen’s University of Canterbury community engagement class which inspired me to take on a leadership role and help with the disaster relief efforts immediately.  Fill the Truck not only helped my community but brought my university community together.’’

"My volunteering studies at Canterbury allowed me to understand the value of volunteering and inspired me to seek volunteer opportunities beyond the classroom and my time abroad. The University of Canterbury should continue to offer the CHCH 101 community course and let the students help provide feedback on what more Canterbury can do in the community.

"The hands on volunteer experiences gave us an opportunity to apply our strengths to a team, something people do every day in a career. The community experience also showed me how to be a leader and collaborate with others which was very transferable to my career.

"Canterbury has taken an innovative approach to education allowing students to not only absorb the classroom material but also be hands on and learn by experience and critical reflection.’’  

Weston is based in San Francisco working in marketing and volunteering regularly with Habitat for Humanity.

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications 
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168
kip.brook@canterbury.ac.nz

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