Longhorns help wildfire victims not reached by FEMA

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Members of the Black Student Alliance pick up debris, bricks and scrap metal on a homeowner’s site Sunday morning as part of Horns G

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

[Corrected Oct. 24: An earlier version of this story misstated the role of AmeriCorps in the Bastrop project. AmeriCorps helped coordinate the volunteer effort.]

Longhorns trekked to Bastrop by the busload to help neighborhoods not yet reached by federal disaster support groups after more than 1,300 homes were destroyed by recent wildfires.

More than 35 student groups registered for Horns Give: Bastrop, an event arranged by Student Government. Spokeswoman Sydney Fazende said SG raised donations and funds through an online campaign and from contributions from businesses, including $3,800 from Huffington Homes. It took six buses and 11 vans to transport about 800 student volunteers to Bastrop High School before heading out to the site on Sunday morning, Fazende said.

Some of the volunteers went to clear two plots of land owned by Bastrop homeowner Sean Harris. He said he lost his home, his mom’s home and his business, the North End Zone Remodel Project.

Harris said he was at home with his wife and children when the fires occurred. The sheriff forced him to leave before he could salvage much of his and his mother’s belongings, he said.

Harris said his mother, wife and four kids plan to go to the property today. His goal was to repair the property enough so that his family could return home, he said.

“The kindness and generosity of the students who decided to come out today is overwhelming,” he said. “Without the help, we’d be months behind getting this property ready for my kids. My only regret is that I don’t know who to contact or who to send thank you letters to because so many students came out.”

Reva Davis, president of the Black Student Association, said personal items found in the remains — such as old Christmas cards and a child’s handprint in concrete — proved to be a reality check.

“Everybody had their own little moments,” she said. “Everybody would find something that was wrong or amazing to them. It was all breathtaking because you don’t plan on losing something like that.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and AmeriCorps have not yet begun work in the targeted neighborhood, said SG philanthropy director Josh Gold. He said he was a member of one of the first groups on the site.

Volunteers worked at a property owned by a man with severe back problems and his wife, who is confined to a wheelchair, Gold said. Although the husband had been making an effort to make improvements, he had not made a dent on his own, Gold said.

“We found a piece of jewelry that the wife actually made, and it was completely shattered,” he said. “It didn’t seem like much, but just seeing it, she burst into tears. I was tearing up.”

Those not affected by the fires can underestimate the positive impact a few hours of their time could make, Gold said. The difference made by the 800 students was incredible, he said.

“We live in a little bubble around UT,” he said. “Their whole lives were burned off the face of the earth for no reason, and they just have to pick up and keep going.”

Printed on Monday, October 24, 2011 as: Horns Give in Bastrop