WILLIAMSTOWN - A dozen Williams College students and residents of The Spruces Mobile Home Park worked together on Saturday to continue cleaning up the park and combating the scars left by Tropical Storm Irene two years ago.
"It's amazing how much we are getting done in such a short time," Spruce's property manager Marilynn Kirby said.
Kirby supervised the joint team of volunteers that worked throughout the park on tasks she normally performs on her own.
"This is so awesome. It's 100 percent positive."
The 12 students divided into three teams of four Saturday morning to begin their work. Some rode in the back of pickup trucks, riding past immaculately maintained mobile homes standing in contrast to gutted trailers, empty lots and structures with condemned signs on their doors. Others worked on a large pile of debris, moving piece by piece what used to be a home into a large roll-off Dumpster, but the Williams College student volunteers said they also learned something about community and each other as they took part in the annual clean-up of the mobile home park.
"There is a great sense of community here, and at the end of the day, you just feel so good after helping," said 18-year-old Williams freshman Allyza Ngbokoli.
The Yonkers, New York, native participated in the college's "Where am I?!" program, which placed incoming freshman into a variety of community-based service programs, such as the clean-up project at The Spruces.
"Where am I?!" is part of the "First Days" program at the college and introduces freshman students to the Williams campus and the surrounding area. According to Kirby, the college program has assisted in removing six large Dumpsters of debris from the mobile home park so far.
Each work crew of students was paired with a residential volunteer Saturday. Kirby supervised one crew, while residents Larry Burdick and Tom Thompson supervised the other two groups of student workers. Dave Stoddard, another Spruces resident, supervised the crews as they filled the Dumpsters.
The Spruces were ravaged by the deluge of rain brought by Tropical Storm Irene in August, 2011, which caused the nearby Hoosic River to crest its banks and flood the park. The storm destroyed 159 mobile homes, with only 66 of the original 225 units remaining at the park. The second anniversary of that storm passed last week, and this is the second year Williams College has sent students to help Spruces residents remove debris from their park.
"This is a good experience it is giving me inspiration to go back and help," said Bushra, a 19-year-old international student originally from Pakistan who declined to give her full name.
Although her family now lives in Dubai, she is well aware of the floods, earthquakes and mudslides that have devastated her homeland in recent years.
The entire morning wasn't spent in labor though. The Spruces residents made sure the students drank plenty of water, and Pat Fix, a resident unable to take part in the physical labor, helped out by delivering lunch to the volunteer work party.
Thompson stopped his work crew at one point in the morning to show them a wooly bear caterpillar and explained how, according to folklore, its alternating brown and black bands can predict the winter weather.
"A wide black stripe means we'll get a bad winter," he said to students hailing from New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Texas and Dubai.
Kirby said The Spruces residents who volunteered their time and their vehicles for the cleanup operation were essential to the event's success.
"It's nice to help out. It helps all of us," Spruces resident Julie Ferris said.
She and her husband, Chuck Ferris, drove their pickup truck around the park all morning picking up large debris, including toilets and a plastic shower unit.
"It's been so damaged. It's nice to see it look good again."
The number of resident volunteers and the kindness they displayed had an impact on the Williams students.
"Everyone here is so nice and so appreciative of all our help. This is really cool," 18-year-old Houston, Texas, native and Williams freshman Annie Sher said. Ferris expressed that appreciation and welcomed the Williams students to the small Northern Berkshire town. "It amazes me how many of them came out to help," she said. "This is great. It's their community too."