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Mills students impressive in volunteer effort

An army of volunteers from New York Mills High School walk to position on a sandbagging line in Moorhead while helping with the flood fight last week. Below, the crew of volunteers gathers outside the district office entrance for a group photo.

(Editor's note: The following article is a first-hand account written by Pam Robinson documenting a day sandbagging with New York Mills High School students last week in Fargo-Moorhead.)

By Pam Robinson

Waking up at 7 a.m. has never been so purposeful for me as it was last Tuesday morning when I accompanied the NYM High School senior class to the quickly flooding plaines of the Fargo/Moorhead area.

About 40 students and five adult chaperones were embarking on a day they would never forget. Each student, working collectively with fellow NYM students as well as volunteers from Brookings, S.D., Mayville, N.D., and the surrounding areas would significantly impact the lives of complete strangers to help protect their worldly possessions and the homes of their families.

When our bus was passing through Dilworth, senior class advisor, Mrs. Hensch, called the flood disaster volunteer station and we were directed to a neighborhood on the north side of Moorhead within four blocks of the river. Passing the check point manned by National Guard members, we entered a maze of streets lined on one side with cars and buses that had brought the many volunteers. The ditches were already filling with water, so the remaining lane in which to drive was quite narrow, but the neighborhood had already set up a system of driving routes to allow for the constant delivery of loose gravel/sand or already filled sandbags to houses that were running low. As we emptied out of the bus and put on our gloves & tied up our boots, the group quickly assembled in front of the bus and huddled together to announce their arrival as they shouted, "team sandbag!" The neighborhood resembled a well-oiled machine with groups moving about to join in lines, expanding the efficiency of moving sandbags to shore up each house's wall of protection. As helicopters hovered overhead, I couldn't help but think that we must look like a little ant farm moving earth, building walls and quickly catching a bite or drink only to turn around and be off to the next site that needed our attention.

I was impressed with the energy and unwavering commitment our students displayed as they took on the laborious jobs of filling sandbags, hoisting the bags up and off flatbed trucks, and taking a place in the conveyor belt-like line of arms snaking to the end of a wall construction line. The students were quick learners and even took on roles of foreman a time or two as they directed a new influx of volunteers at a site which enabled us to expand into two or three lines or back down to one. They were heavy lifters, problem solvers, engineers, caretakers and finally guardians for people they would probably meet only this one time in their life, but they would forever be part of the story that the families of this neighborhood would reflect upon when reminiscing about the flooding of 2009. The NYM students were polite, courteous, patient, encouraging, respectful and compassionate while taking on this task, which wasn't easy for a group that was wet, muddy, sweaty, tired, achy, cold and exhausted. They kept on working for pretty much six straight hours. I really thought that their efforts allowed for them to see the world a little differently...much bigger than themselves...or that they can really accomplish some wonderful things when they choose to join forces with others.

As we left the neighborhood a little after 4 p.m., we could now see the edge of the river out the right side of the bus, just beyond the tree-lined riverbank. Also, as we traveled home south along Highway 10, there were new and expanding bodies of water in the ditches, over farm fields and taking over front yards. With the task now behind us and the comfort of a hot bath and some aspirin for the aches & pains and a good nights sleep, I am realizing how lucky we are to be sitting in warm, comfortable and dry homes. Volunteering labor is the most selfless thing a person can do. As a parent of a senior class member I appreciate this opportunity for our students to experience what it truly means to care about humanity. In addition, we need to acknowledge Larry Grieger for driving the bus and working on the sandbag crews along with senior class advisor Mrs. Hensch, and chaperones Nicole Perala and Cindy Mann.