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Healing Hands Healing Homes
May 07, 2011
Students at The George Washington University School of Nursing are not afraid to get their hands dirty, but exhausting hospital shifts rarely translate to sunburns and calluses.
On May 7, Accelerated BSN students Brittany Key, Jessica Kallick, Madeline Goodwin, and Jennifer Goonan traveled to Gloucester County, Va., where they traded latex exam gloves for rugged work gloves. The students joined a team of volunteers from the Gloucester Tornado Recovery Group to aid the community after it was ravaged, April 17, by a tornado blamed for two fatalities and millions of dollars in damage.
Following a crash course in tree demolition, the volunteers tackled enormous piles of downed trees that had littered the lot of a destroyed home. The daunting mountain of wooded debris gradually shrank as they hauled branches and tree stumps to be cut in a wood chipper.
Twisted among the fallen trees lay weather-beaten remnants of family life. Books, electronics, clothes, and household appliances lay strewn across the property, a testament to the storm’s fatal wrath. The students preserved as many mementos as possible for the family of the homeowner, who lost his life during the tornado.
“Everywhere we looked there were memories of someone's life that was lost. As nurses, our job is never finished, even after death, and we are grateful to have been able to help salvage belongings for the family,” said Key.
Motivated by the community’s resilience, the women continued to ardently feed branches to the wood chipper, despite fatigue. As Key explained, “We are the future of nursing and not only do we want to make a difference in hospitals, but we want to share our passion with the community.”
The nursing majors spoke with locals about the tornado and its immediate aftermath, learning that many damaged homes were uninsured or owned by people with disabilities. They observed another devastated property nearby, where a cracked foundation and two defiant walls stood. It was the home of an elderly woman, who had moved into a nursing home two weeks before the tornado tore through her neighborhood. The students were humbled by the magnitude of the tornado’s destruction.
Under the heat of the late-afternoon sun, the final dump truck reached capacity, brimming with wood chips. All told, the students and their team of local volunteers chipped about 50,000 lbs. of uprooted trees throughout the day.
In the upcoming weeks, GW nursing students will continue to support the relief effort by collecting various donated goods and classroom supplies for Gloucester’s middle school, which was destroyed when the tornado ripped apart its roof. They also plan to return to the region to aid with the ongoing cleanup.
This story was written and submitted by Jennifer Goonan, BSN ‘11
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