For an 18-day period in November, Amielynn Abellera ’04 saw first-hand the effects Hurricane Katrina had on the Gulf Coast. But as others flocked to New Orleans to help in the relief efforts, this 22-year-old San Francisco resident headed to Biloxi, Miss., with the nonprofit organization Hands On USA (HOUSA) to assist in cleaning up the destroyed area.
“While a lot of us donated money, too, we wanted to do something that felt like we were really making a difference,” she says. “We wanted to see that our efforts were really helping real people.”
HOUSA is a volunteer-staffed, nonprofit based in Biloxi to assist the community with hurricane rebuilding efforts. It was formed in response to the 2004 tsunami that struck the coast of Thailand.
While in Biloxi, Abellera and other volunteers spent time gutting houses, delivering food and clothing to residents, feeding and walking animals at the local animal shelter, helping the Salvation Army organize food, and offering other support wherever necessary.
The work was extremely difficult at times—there was 28 feet of water in some places Aballera’s group visited, and some homes had been completely demolished—but that didn’t stop Abellera and others from continuing to work.
“Santa Clara taught me that if I want to do something, especially when it comes to helping those in need-just do it. Be assertive.”
—AMIELYNN ABELLERA ’04
“This is a life-changing experience,” she says. “The volunteers here come from all walks of life. Lots of students, lots of people ‘between jobs’ who are taking advantage of that time, and lots of people who just decided they need to use their vacation and come help.”
After graduating from Santa Clara, Abellera participated in a yearlong Americorps program, working for the San Jose Conservation Corps. The group ran an after-school program for low-income high school students in South San Jose. She also volunteered with EMQ Children and Family Services, where she mentored behaviorally challenged youth; the Flying Doctors organization, which offers free health care to rural Mexico; and St. Joseph’s Medical Center, where she was a general hospital volunteer.
She now works at Stanford University Medical Center as a clinical research assistant for the blood and marrow transplant program. She hopes to enter medical school within the next few years.
Abellera attributes her “love for volunteering” to her education at SCU. “I don’t know how it is at other universities, but at SCU, volunteering was a part of life,” she says. “The opportunity to participate in community service projects was integrated into every aspect of my four years at college.”
—Karyne Levy is a writer/editor in SCU’s Office of Communications and Marketing