The Maneater

MU students aid Houston hurricane survivors

The Hope Project Founder Anthony Ruffner: “I think it was really cool to show the people of Houston that as students, we aren’t out of touch with what’s happening.”

While many MU students spent this year’s family weekend with their parents at Memorial Stadium, some decided to skip the weekend’s festivities to help others in need.

Nearly 40 MU students joined The Hope Project’s trip on Sept. 15 to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

The Hope Project is a new, student-run service organization at MU that aims to match students with volunteer programs based on their personal strengths.

The Hope Project partnered with Eight Days of Hope, a non-profit organization that works specifically with hurricane relief. Members of both organizations went out to specific sites each day to rip out drywall, carpets and cabinets from water-damaged homes.

MU volunteers witnessed the wreckage from the hurricane firsthand and felt its effects. The Hope Project member Lauren Walsh said the destruction was worse than she or the people of Houston could have imagined.

“It was super sad to see how badly people have been hit,” Walsh said. “One of the houses that I worked on had been hit way worse than they thought they were going to. They didn’t prepare for it at all because they were pretty far inland. Their house flooded like four feet up, so they lost absolutely everything that they owned.”

MU student volunteers helped clean out the family’s house by clearing out the entire kitchen, which had been renovated just seven months prior to the hurricane.

The Hope Project Founder Anthony Ruffner said another important part of the trip was to reach out to victims on behalf of all college students.

“I think it was really cool to show the people of Houston that as students, we aren’t out of touch with what’s happening,” Ruffner said. “We’re able to show that we care about situations where people are struggling and hurting. Just because we are portrayed as college students who are partying or just about our degrees or whatever, there is still a lot of love in this community, and I think it was really cool to show them that they aren’t alone in it and people were willing to drive 14 hours to help out, even if we don’t know them.”

The idea for the trip started with one of Ruffner’s friends wanting to go to Houston over Labor Day weekend with a small group of people. It didn’t work out due to scheduling reasons.

“It turned into running it through The Hope Project and marketing through that,” Ruffner said.

After spreading the word around campus and pulling together some last-minute details, The Hope Project was able to run the trip for free thanks to Eight Days of Hope, which provided the group with food and lodging at The Grace Community Church.

“The plans were kind of iffy at first because we didn’t have a set ride or a place to stay or anything,” Walsh said. “But once they figured that all out, it was really cool that we got to stay and do this trip free of charge.”

The Hope Project was started last year by Ruffner and a few of his friends. They were inspired to create a service organization that didn’t restrict volunteers to one set of skills.

“Too often organizations around campuses, as well as the community, limit students to who they can be and what they can do, but at The Hope Project, we reject this,” the organization’s website says. “We believe that each individual is simply that, an individual, with their own skill set, beliefs, desires, and purpose to change the world we live in.”

The Hope Project works with six different organizations such as the Humane Society of Missouri, the Blind Vietnamese Children Center, Be The Change and the Help Portrait.

“[The Hope Project] is really intentional about loving people from a volunteer’s aspect but also about empowering the volunteers who are involved to use their strengths to make a difference, opposed to putting them in an organization and forcing them to do a lot of stuff,” Ruffner said. “We really wanted it to be about giving them an opportunity to use their strengths to make a difference in the community so they really fell in love with service and enjoyed it.”

While The Hope Project doesn’t normally run trips, it’s not out of the question for the future.

“We aren’t really trip-focused, but if something comes up, we really believe in just being responsive and whimsical in nature and just going to serve,” Ruffner said. “So, nothing on the radar for right now, but maybe in the future.”

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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