October 25, 2014

Elyria
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EC students to spend spring break aiding Sandy cleanup in New Jersey

This week, news stories contained accounts from the residents of Toms River, N.J., lamenting over the state of their still-in-ruins community five months after superstorm Sandy devastated the area.

Loaded up and ready to roll. Elyria Catholic High School student Becca Pronesti, 16, and her blanket-wrapped friend Kasey Bilancini head for a bus Monday as a large group of Elyria Catholic students leave on their Alternate Spring Break to Toms River, N.J., where they will be helping with the cleanup from superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the area in late October. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

Those stories elaborated on the struggles many still are facing are they try to rebuild their homes and their lives. For the most part, those stories seem far away, but this week dozens of students from Elyria Catholic High School will see firsthand.

For the third year, students at Elyria Catholic will be working during their spring break. This year, 32 students and several chaperones will travel to Toms River in partnership with the National Relief Network to help rebuild hurricane-stricken communities.

The group left Monday afternoon for six days of work. They will travel by bus to New Jersey and will be staying at a United Methodist campsite in nearby Browns Mills, N.J.

Kasey Bilancini, a senior participating for the third straight year in the program, can think of no better way to spend her spring break.

“I’ve been amazed at the impact that a relatively small group of students can have on a community that is struggling to rebuild,” she said. “Although it means missing a week of softball, I know that it’s more important for me to spend my spring break helping those hit hard by (superstorm) Sandy.”

The group’s efforts will be focused on two key projects.

First, students will work on an eco-reclamation project to help restore key parts of the shoreline that were eroded as a result of the hurricane. The project largely involves replanting grass, trees, and shrubbery that were washed away in the storm. Second, students will work on houses that were damaged during the storm, but still have not been properly repaired.

“Everyone goes into this knowing they are there to work,” said Assistant Principal Michael Wisnor. “They have embraced that knowing that even if it’s in some small way they are there is help others.”

The cost of the trip for each student was roughly $500 and students were responsible for paying the cost or participating in fundraising efforts.

“I think that speaks volumes about the type of young men and women we have at the high school,” Wisnor said. “We have a number of students from whom this is their second or third year of doing this, and I think that is a testament to the experience they have while there.”

The Alternative Spring Break program was introduced at Elyria Catholic in 2011, when a group of 53 students traveled to Pulaski, Va., to assist in disaster relief after the town was struck by a tornado.

“We are always looking for new ways for students to live the Gospel message in their everyday lives, and this is a great opportunity for everybody, students and chaperones alike, to provide comfort and assistance to those in need,” Wisnor said.

This year, the Elyria Catholic students will also be partnering with a Catholic Church group from St. Albert the Great in Sun Prairie, Wis.

As a thank you to the students for their efforts, Buddy Valastro, better known as “The Cake Boss” from TLC’s hit television series with the same name, has set time aside to meet with the group. The students will meet Buddy at his factory and then have the opportunity to go to Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., to enjoy some of The Cake Boss’s finest desserts.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.