Hurricane Turns Visiting Grad Student into Relief Volunteer

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

A UTEP student used to community service rolled up his sleeves after one of the most devastating storms in recent history – Hurricane Sandy – affected his trip to New York.

Jaime Mendoza, a graduate student in counseling, was in New York to do a site visit of the doctoral program at Columbia University when the super storm began to pound the Eastern seaboard Oct. 29. By the time its 80 mph winds blew through, it had left flooded neighborhoods, an estimated 7.5 million people without power and was responsible for the deaths of at least 16 people in seven states.Jamie Mendoza, standing far right, and associates with UTEP’s Omega Delta Phi fraternity, recently volunteered their time at the El Paso Rescue Mission. Mendoza also helped evacuees in New York during Hurricane Sandy earlier this month.  Jamie Mendoza, standing far right, and associates with UTEP’s Omega Delta Phi fraternity, recently volunteered their time at the El Paso Rescue Mission. Mendoza also helped evacuees in New York during Hurricane Sandy earlier this month.

Fortunately for Mendoza, he was staying with a friend in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which was not affected as much as other areas. He said he saw lights flickering and heard the heavy winds and rain. When he felt it was safe, he ventured outside and saw the destruction, including several fallen trees.

He and his host journeyed to an evacuation shelter in a nearby public school to offer their help and bottled water. For several hours, Mendoza used his Spanish-speaking abilities to translate for some of the residents displaced by the storm. He also read to and played with the many children who were there.

“I saw the fallen trees and the broken windows, but I also remember the environment in the evacuation shelter,” he said after he returned to El Paso. “I saw a father dancing with his daughter, a guitarist singing. They were all expressions of hope.”

Community outreach is common to Mendoza, a member of the University’s Omega Delta Phi fraternity. For example, he spent part of last weekend painting and serving meals at the Rescue Mission of El Paso on Paisano Drive.

“Every little bit makes a difference,” he said.

Alex Muñoz, an investment banking analyst with JP Morgan and a 2011 UTEP graduate, said his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side did not sustain damage or power loss so it was able to serve as a lifeboat for three other friends who needed shelter. He worked out of his house the first two days because the subway was down, but returned to the office on Oct. 31.

Muñoz, UTEP Student Government Association president in 2009-10, participated in a food drive Nov. 3.

“Compared to other parts of the region, we were pretty lucky,” he said.

To learn about Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, visit http://www.fema.gov/hurricane-sandy-donate-and-volunteer.