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A Hands On Disaster Relief volunteer surverys the damage in Clarksville, Missouri. Alumni and students have donated time to help residents in Iowa and Missouri rebuild after summer flooding.

Flood Relief a 'Hands On' Effort

Hands On Disaster Relief being led by BC alumni

By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
The floods that ravaged the Midwest this summer may have been largely forgotten by the public and the media, but Boston College alumni will continue to play an active role in relief efforts for the region.

More than 200 BC students and alumni have volunteered through Hands On Disaster Response (HODR), a nonprofit group based in Carlisle, Mass., that is currently deployed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

In June of this year, after record rainfall and countless levee breeches, river waters swelled and displaced thousands of residents throughout Midwestern states. The worst flooding occurred in Cedar Rapids, with 1,300 city blocks affected.

Rebeca Howard,'06, became involved with HODR during her senior year at BC, when she and her roommate volunteered to help families in Mississippi affected by Hurricane Katrina. Since that time, Howard accepted a position at HODR as communications manager after serving as project coordinator to their Peru earthquake and Arkansas tornado response projects.

The lack of red tape is what drew Howard to this organization, she says. "From my first involvement with HODR, I was impressed with how easy it was for people to get involved. People show up at a site, meet other volunteers, pick what they want to do and get to work," said Howard.

HODR's mission is to provide volunteer resources and expertise to communities affected by natural disasters. Howard explained that HODR's services are all-encompassing: Depending on the situation, volunteers have done everything from removing flood-soaked home contents, gutting out drywall and flooring, to using chain saws for tree removal or establishing communication centers for community leaders. Howard and other site leaders coordinate with community officials to prioritize tasks.

Volunteers come, free of charge, and help do what they can. There is no maximum or minimum number of days volunteers must work. Modest accommodations and meals are provided through partnerships with local churches and donations collected through HODR's few administrators.

"Our motto is maximum efficiency and minimum bureaucracy," said Howard, from Winchester, Mass. She added that many natural disasters "cause the worst, but bring out the best in a lot of ways."

Another alumnus Bill Driscoll, Jr.,'05, is HODR's operations director for the Cedar Rapids project, where the destruction is particularly widespread. In Palo, a community of just 500 homes, 470 were flooded. The destruction was even more severe in the more populated communities.

Driscoll became involved with HODR in 2005, while a student at BC. After volunteering in the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort, Driscoll founded Persevere Disaster Relief, a small non-profit based on HODR's effective grassroots model. In 2006, First Lady Laura Bush presented him with the President's Call to Service Award to honor his work for Katrina survivors.
Like Katrina, Driscoll said, the flooding in Iowa destroyed lives.

"The flood affected so many people, many without insurance to cover repairs. There is a lot of work to be done and we are here to help, to continue to support this community in its recovery," said Driscoll, a Milton, Mass. native.

The need for so much work was apparent that HODR quickly extended a three-month commitment to half a year. Volunteers will be needed in Iowa through Oct. 25.

For more information on HODR, visit

Melissa Beecher can be reached at