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Students aid local flood victims

Psychology students
Psychology students Audrey Sheridan '08 (left) and Jacqueline Katz '07 will continue volunteering with the American Red Cross after their Disaster Studies Practicum course is completed.

Audrey Sheridan '08 (Psychology) didn't know what to expect when she arrived at the Joyce- Schirick Post 1386 VFW in Kingston on April 17.

But equipped with the knowledge she received in the Disaster Studies Practicum course at New Paltz, Sheridan and classmate Jacqueline Katz '07 (Psychology) said they felt ready to aid victims of the April 16 nor'easter that flooded parts of the Hudson Valley.

"It was a little overwhelming, but we received a lot of training," said Sheridan.

"You don't know what it's like until you experience it," said Katz, who had spent a few hours at the shelter when it opened on April 16.

Sheridan and Katz volunteered at the Ulster County American Red Cross evacuation shelter as part of the 90 to 120 hours of field work they must complete for the three-credit practicum that is the cornerstone of the Disaster Studies minor at New Paltz.

"We're not only learning, we're practicing what we've been taught," said Katz. Sheridan added, "This is why we're going to school."

The course, led this semester by instructor Gail Messenger (Disaster Studies), provides students with the training and opportunities to experience volunteering.

The students, who are both working on minors in Disaster Studies, spent the majority of that Tuesday running the shelter by themselves, while their Red Cross supervisor Zachary Joyce '07 (Psychology) was out in the field. They spent 10 hours registering people, entertaining small children and fixing hot meals. Sheridan said another big part of their job was to listen to the victim's stories.

"At times I didn't know what to say, but many of the people said it was enough that we were there to listen," said Sheridan.

Messenger had the students discuss their experience in-depth with their classmates in the practicum course.

As part of the semesterlong course, students must participate in training with the American Red Cross and volunteer with the Red Cross or Ulster County Emergency Management.

In addition to their field work, students are responsible for class participation, journaling and coursework.

Messenger said the five other students in this semester's practicum are just like Sheridan and Katz. "They are all enthusiastic, committed and responsible," said Messenger.