BENNINGTON, Vt. — Six months after Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico, the island is still in the process of rebuilding, with some families still living without roofs to shelter them from the rain. Five local students are part of a group of Vermonters that means to do something to help.

The five students, Matt Mould, Vinnie Redcross, Tyler Prouty, Will Secoy, and Sienna McFaline, are all enrolled in the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center. Mould, Redcross, Prouty, and Secoy are part of the Building Trades program, and McFaline is in the Video Production program. They will be joined by CDC assistant director Meg Honsinger and Building Trades assistant instructor Rich Ryder. The group will leave on Saturday and return next Sunday.

Sending the students has been a group effort between Jim Goodine of the Building Trades Corporation, which as been instrumental throughout the years in helping the Building Trades department at the CDC find community projects that the students can participate in to hone their skills, and the Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity, which has worked with the Building Trades students on several builds and projects in recent years. In total, Goodine and Habitat for Humanity raised over $12,000 for this trip.

Also joining the group will be Ryan Scutt of Catamount Access Television, who worked with Goodine on videos to help raise money for the trip. He and McFaline are each working on documenting the trip, and will each produce documentaries of their experiences, which they will share with the community upon their return. Scutt, who said he will also be helping at the build sites, said that he hopes to also produce several short pieces, including interviews, that will run on CAT-TV.

The students will work on sites in Las Marias, which is about two hours from the capital of San Juan and just inland of the island’s western coast. Honsinger said that Goodine had flown there earlier in the week to get everything set up. The students will be staying in a church for at least the first two nights.

“Maria, as you know, was one of the most devastating hurricanes that we’ve seen in recent times,” said Goodine in one of the CAT-TV videos. “The situation there is not improving very fast. We’re taking a group of about 20 people from Bennington…. For folks that would like to know more about it, we’re going to be doing a series of videos in order to show people what our progress is and the things that we’re doing there in terms of re-building, maybe getting some new roofs on, pressure washing, painting, and trying to get things cleaned up.” Honsinger said on Thursday that the number is now closer to 30 people.

“It’s great for the kids to experience working with people from around the world,” said Honsinger, who said that she was nervous, but excited, about making the trip, feelings that she saw mirrored in the students when she spoke with them earlier in the week.

“It’s incredible,” said CDC Director Michael Lawler. “When Jim Goodine first talked about it, we thought, what an amazing opportunity for the students.” He said that some of the students have never left Bennington, let alone flown off the continental U.S. “The students are very excited about this, and committed.”

Scutt said that spending a week in Puerto Rico, especially the parts worst affected by Hurricane Maria, will be a new experience for the students. “We might not have power, the living conditions will be very unlike what they’re used to. But that’s what people in Puerto Rico are dealing with on a daily basis. People tend to take those things for granted.”


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Information from: Bennington Banner, http://www.benningtonbanner.com