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Foreign student groups housed in area target Katrina damage

Mary Pickels
| Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Rotary Youth Exchange students spending a year with host families in America attend local schools and often have a chance to visit tourist sites, including Washington, D.C., and New York.

But one group of foreign exchange students spent a recent week climbing ladders and swinging hammers in Alabama, helping to renovate homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Last spring, Katy Doran spent a week in Bayou la Batre working alongside a group of Rotary Youth Exchange students and members of the First Presbyterian Church, of Irwin, to help repair Katrina damage.

She was so inspired that this year she recruited another group of exchange students to accompany church members. They spent March 17-24 in Bayou la Batre, painting homes outside and in, installing subflooring and drywall, building porches and repairing roofs. They slept on air mattresses in the Providence Presbyterian Church in Mobile and shared family-style meals each evening.

"It was fantastic," said Doran, a member of the Greensburg Rotary Club and chairwoman of Rotary District 7330's youth exchange program. The district includes Westmoreland, Fayette, Cambria, Greene, Somerset and Washington counties.

"It was very satisfying," she said. "The young people felt like they were participating in a good work."

The group traveled in four cars, brought their own tools, and were given assignments by Lutheran Disaster Response.

"Some students had never even 'met' a hammer before," Doran said. "They picked up the skills. They were responsible about learning. By the end of the week they were on the roofs, replacing blue tarps. ... We did a lot of trash and debris removal.

"These young people have the enthusiasm, energy and stamina to get the work done," Doran said. "They all said, 'This was the best week of the entire year.'"

It was the fourth trip to Bayou la Batre for Rob Liermann, a Hempfield Township resident and member of Irwin's First Presbyterian Church.

Last year his family hosted a student from the Czech Republic, who accompanied members of Liermann's family on an Alabama mission trip.

"When Katie heard that we were going, she thought it would be good for the other kids to go," said Liermann, a Murrysville police officer. "Obviously, we got more done just because we had more hands. They worked very hard. They were very interested in what they were doing and who they were helping.

"What I get out of it is the feeling of helping other people who need a break," Liermann said. "It's a way to pay back the blessings I've been given."

Students who traveled to Alabama include: Louise Juvent, of Belgium, hosted by Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club; Thales Silva, Brazil, Conemaugh Rotary Club; Louise Boesen, Denmark, and Juliane Mai, Germany, both hosted by EF Youth Exchange, Johnstown; Graci Romero, Ecuador, Latrobe Rotary Club; Sara Jokenin, Finland, Indiana Rotary Club; Clotilde Ruppin, France, Hempfield Rotary Club; Florian Stettner, Germany, Ligonier Rotary Club; Kaoru Nakano, Japan, Johnstown Rotary Club; Kate Sampkhvalova, Kazahkstan, AFS Youth Exchange, Hempfield Township; Korn Kunta, Thailand, Norwin Rotary Club; Stacey Kellough, 2007-08 Rotary Youth Exchange USA to Taiwan, Murrysville-Export Rotary Club; Leah and Krista Rittenhouse, Mt. Pleasant, host sisters for Belgium student; Flo Johnson, Greensburg, student at St. Vincent College; and Hillary and Kelly Dzialowski, both of Greensburg, students at Ligonier Valley School.

First Presbyterian Church team leaders making the trip were Sam Hensell, Dr. Ken Dzialowski, Bob Richards, Jeff Richards and Paulette Myers, along with Jane Rittenhouse, Rotary host parent for the Belgian student, and Laurelville Mennonite Conference Center staff.

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