When Hurricane Irma started barreling toward Florida, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University senior Hayley Lewis had the option to go home to Lake City, but she wanted to stay to help other students evacuate.
Having grown up in Florida, she’d been through other hurricanes before and knew how scary it could be for someone new to the area.
She was one of five volunteer shelter captains who went with 37 students to three shelters in the community. They were just some of the Embry-Riddle students from the Daytona Beach Campus who volunteered during the storm or helped people prepare for the storm. She also checked on students in the residence halls to ensure they had a place to go; prepared and evacuated students; and assisted them when they returned. Along with a few other students, she checked rooms and hallways after the storm for weather-related issues.
“For someone who is here from out-of-state it can be terrifying if you are not sure what you are going to go through. I liked being there to be a calming person who can say, ‘Hey, we have this. Don’t freak out.
We will be fine,’” said the 22-year-old spaceflight operations major, who also works as a Hall Tour Ambassador and in the front office for Housing and Residence Life.
And fine they were. Lewis and another shelter captain were with seven other Embry-Riddle students at David C. Hinson Middle School in Daytona Beach from Saturday morning to Monday morning.
While she studied and did some homework, she also played cards and board games with fellow students, including a board game about astronauts and space missions.
Embry-Riddle seniors Kirsten Fawcett and Nick Kluting also helped with ensuring students had an evacuation plan as well as helping students when they returned. Lewis, Fawcett, Kluting and Carlin Hausmann, 19, a sophomore from Brookfield, Conn., who also was a volunteer shelter captain, stayed with students from Embry-Riddle’s Student Village in the campus’ new residence hall Monday night coordinating games and other activities until they could return to their rooms on Tuesday when power was restored.
“Their service to our students and campus community was invaluable and helped ensure a smooth departure and arrival back to campus for residential students,” said Steve Logan, executive director of Housing and Residence Life.
After helping students evacuate, Fawcett and Kluting, who are also Hall Tour Ambassadors in the residence halls, spent the actual duration of the storm volunteering at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach. They helped hospital staff with various tasks throughout the day and night, including collecting patients’ food orders, delivering meals and helping with minor maintenance needs.
At times when he was deep in the hospital, Kluting, 22, of Longview, Texas, said he didn’t even know there was a storm outside.
“It was the best way to pass time during the storm and we were helping people out,” said Kluting, who stayed in a shelter during last year’s Hurricane Matthew along with Fawcett.
Fawcett, 22, a civil engineering major who grew up near Tampa and has family in Jacksonville, said she was bored last year in the shelter and wanted to help out more in the community.
“It was a really cool opportunity being able to do something different and meet patients and families and different hospital departments,” she said. “It was nice to be useful and helpful during the storm. I’m not good at sitting still and not doing anything.”
Fawcett said they barely slept because they were excited and didn’t want to miss a call from staff needing help. “We were always ready for the next task,” she said.
Another senior, Mike Shekari, 21, a homeland security major, was volunteering at the Volusia County Emergency Operations Center helping the Salvation Army of Daytona Beach, where he is a soldier and volunteer.
He not only stayed at the EOC during the storm, but helped to deliver about 1,200 meals to multiple shelters and to the Pierson area. He’s been volunteering for disasters with the Salvation Army since he was 8 years old when he first helped out with his mom, who works at the Salvation Army in Sarasota.
“I try to help out with the Salvation Army whenever possible,” Shekari said. “The reason it is important to me is because I have a sense of duty. It’s something we as citizens should do to help our fellowman and countrymen.”
Other Embry-Riddle students were also involved in their hometowns helping neighbors prepare for the storm.
Khi Franse, 20, an engineering physics junior, for example, and his friends, Sam Rachelson, Mark Barry, Otto Legon, and Brennan McCann helped prep Franse’s parents’ house in Pomona Park as well as the homes of three family friends in Crescent City and Palatka. They boarded up houses, and in one case, moved a piano away from a glass window of an older couple’s home and returned it after the storm.
“It was the right thing to do. They needed help so we went around and helped them,” Franse said. He was especially grateful to his fellow students. “They didn’t know the people who we were helping and it was nice that they chose to help out,” he said.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 80 baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through the Worldwide Campus with more than 125 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and through online programs. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit erau.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.