Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Students volunteer in Tennessee

Rising junior starts new chapter of relief organization

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Photo courtesy John Son
Whitman students helped to rebuild homes in the tornado-stricken town of Fairview, Tenn. The group formed a chapter of the National Relief Network and organized the summer trip.
Instead of celebrating the beginning of summer, 27 students from Walt Whitman High School decided to give back those in need.

John Son, 16, organized a Whitman chapter of the National Relief Network, a group that provides volunteer disaster relief, and planned a trip to the tornado-stricken town of Fairview, Tenn. Students helped rebuild the community during the five-day trip, lasting from June 15 to 20.

‘‘It was all around a great experience,” Son said. ‘‘Everyone really liked it. The French foreign exchange student who came, Felix D’Arcangues, even said that the trip was the highlight of his visit to America.”

Whitman history teacher Michael Curran sponsored the trip. Two parents and an NRN coordinator also joined the group.

‘‘I was excited at the prospect that a student wanted to initiate a service trip like this,” said Curran, who has lead many international service trips in the past. ‘‘I thought it was great on his behalf and I wanted to help support him in any way that I could.”

Son’s mother, Sonha Mason, encouraged her son to volunteer with NRN after hearing about it from a friend. Son agreed, and found out that he needed to be part of a chapter to participate. With only a few months until the trip, Son decided to start a chapter at Whitman and began recruiting students.

‘‘I had until June 1 to recruit 35 people,” Son said. ‘‘I talked to around 500 or 700 students and almost everyone wanted to do it, but their plans were already made because of the short notice. I finally got 27 people. The organization said since it’s my first time, I could have a little less people under the assumption that I could gather more the next year.”

Despite two medical accidents that happened during the trip, Son said all the students want to go again next year. Son said he has already started recruiting more people and planning for next year.