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K-State Today

September 30, 2011



Organized service: Community Service Week teaches value of organized disaster response

By Communications and Marketing

A disaster can be anything from a hurricane that devastates thousands of lives to a house fire that destroys one family's most prized possessions. In situations like these, victims and emergency personnel hope that volunteers have the knowledge to effectively react to disasters on each end of the spectrum.

The Kansas State University community will have several opportunities to learn the importance of volunteering in an organized manner during this year's Community Service Week, Oct. 15-22. The focus of the week will be disaster response and preparedness.

Events for the week have been organized by the School of Leadership Studies' HandsOn Kansas State volunteer program and K-State's Kansas State Book Network, which is featuring "Zeitoun" this year -- a book that focuses on the plight of a man who volunteered to help after Hurricane Katrina.

Karin Westman, head of the department of English and chair of the Kansas State Book Network events committee, said the organization worked with HandsOn Kansas State to develop a community service project to tie into the year's reading selection.

"KSBN is excited to partner with HandsOn Kansas State so we can help students, faculty and staff connect their reading experience of 'Zeitoun' to disaster response and preparedness here in Kansas," Westman said. "This year's Community Service Week provides readers with a way to take action in their own communities."

Lynda Bachelor, HandsOn K-State project coordinator for the School of Leadership Studies, said this is the first year the week has revolved around a theme focusing on a particular social issue.

"After the 2008 tornado on campus and in Chapman, HandsOn has thought we needed to work on disaster preparedness in order to help campus and the community," Bachelor said. "It's the perfect time to gather people together to share what they do."

Bachelor said this year's Community Service Week is a good opportunity to mobilize local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster volunteers, who seek to provide an organized response to disasters. Unaffiliated, spontaneous volunteers with the best of intentions can sometimes cause more harm than good, she said.

"Everyone wants to come to a disaster site or go to homes of people they know and help immediately," Bachelor said. "They outreach with warmth and wonderfulness, but it can sometimes hinder immediate and long-term assistance, and this happens over and over again."

Being affiliated with a volunteer organization active in disaster relief can be more beneficial to victims both immediately and long-term, she said. The events hosted by HandsOn Kansas State and the Kansas State Book Network will let the campus community know about productive ways they can help in a disaster.

The week will kick off Saturday, Oct. 15, with an all-day event sponsored by the School of Leadership Studies in Reading, a small Kansas community recovering from a May 2011 tornado that nearly destroyed it. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the K-State community is invited to serve and work with community members on service projects. "Everything from physical labor to helping teachers organize donated items will be available," Bachelor said.

Throughout Community Service Week, various activities and service projects will be offered, including a tabletop disaster exercise and preparedness session, information on how faith-based organizations can contribute, a film viewing, pet recovery and assistance information, and a volunteer reception center that will feature stories from volunteers who have contributed to a community's recovery.

The week will culminate with Make a Difference Day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22. The event includes a disaster simulation that will provide practice for Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters members and campus emergency services in identifying response needs and volunteer use in a disaster. Individuals will be able to participate in a tabletop exercise, set up a volunteer reception center and experience volunteer deployment.

Bachelor said at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20 in 118 Throckmorton Hall, Jono Arzalone from the Federal Emergency Management Agency office in Kansas City, Mo., will present information on the government's role in disasters, as well as how Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 changed the way volunteer organizations are run. Arzalone is also available throughout the day for classroom presentations by calling HandsOn Kansas State at 785-532-3670.

By the end of the week, Bachelor said she hopes volunteers have successfully organized a branch of a Community Emergency Response Team. Many students and campus community members are already trained for certifications like being a Red Cross volunteer or a Community Emergency Response Team member from another community.

"Sometimes volunteers just don't know where to go," she said. "We hope to bring all of these interests together, and make students aware of the variety of organizations they can be affiliated with on campus and around the community."

For up-to-date time and location information for the week's events, or to register, visit http://www.handson.k-state.edu.