Students Spend Fall Break Helping Alabama Families Devastated by Tornado

HIGH POINT, N.C., Nov. 7, 2011 – Several High Point University students dedicated an entire week to helping others in need as part of HPU’s Alternative Fall Break Program. Specifically, a group of 15 students and seven adults boarded a bus and headed to the Alabama communities of Tuscaloosa and Phil Campbell to aid families who were affected by a rash of 33 disastrous tornados that hit the area in April 2011.

The group, which collaborated with Oak Ridge United Methodist Church – as HPU has done for many years, had the opportunity to talk with several members of the community who were affected by the tornados. Students also traveled the path of the main tornado that struck the community while listening to heart-wrenching stories from the victims.

“Talking with all of the people and hearing them recall their experience is therapy for both the talker and the listener,” says Bob Yarbrough, an HPU security officer and member of Oak Ridge United Methodist Church. “It’s important that the students see and hear first-hand how a natural disaster can affect people, families and communities.”

In one of the communities, the group had the opportunity to rebuild the home of a family that was destroyed by the tornado. The disaster left the family’s daughter, Lily, critically burned. Yarborough says a very special moment on the trip was meeting Lily on the construction site.

“Meeting her added new meaning to the reason that students were there donating their time and energy to help someone,” Yarbrough recalls. “It became a personal relationship when they met and talked with the people they were doing the work for.”

In another community, several were killed in the disaster. The group had the honor of helping a man whose mother and grandmother were killed by the tornado by helping him clear debris from the path of destruction.

Yarbrough says this experience was eye-opening to a lot of the students who had never seen such sights from a natural disaster.

“Seeing these stories on television is just not the same as being there in person,” Yarbrough says. “The TV screen cannot convey the magnitude of the physical destruction nor capture the sadness of what the people have been through, nor the determination they have to get through it.”

Michael Qubein, one of the students who attended the trip, agrees.

“My eyes were opened during this trip,” says Qubein, who was there with four of his fraternity brothers in Delta Sigma Phi. “We were all humbled by the experience and challenged by the opportunity to serve those in great need. We listened to their stories of pain and loss. Through service, we provided hope and encouragement. That was our main goal – to uplift these people and positively impact their lives.”

The Alabama Alternative Fall Break was one of three trips taken during the HPU Fall Break. Another trip was taken to Guatemala. The two trips mark the seventh year in partnership between HPU and Oak Ridge United Methodist Church, and the 15th and 16th alternative break trips made together since the fall of 2005. A third trip, taken by the Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity on campus, was made to Nicaragua.

Other projects in past years have included flood recovery in Iowa, Atlanta and Nashville; hurricane response in Texas; a food gleaning project in Orlando; a safe-housing project in Florida; and hurricane relief in Mississippi.

At High Point University, every student receives an extraordinary education in an inspiring environment with caring people.℠ HPU, located in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, is a liberal arts institution with over 4,200 undergraduate and graduate students from 51 countries and 46 states at campuses in High Point and Winston-Salem. It is ranked by US News and World Report at No. 3 among Regional Colleges in the South. ranks HPU in the top 7 percent among “America’s Best Colleges.” Parade Magazine lists HPU in the top 25 private schools in the nation. HPU was selected in the 2010-2011 list of “Colleges of Distinction,” as well as one of the top green schools in the country by the Sierra Club. The university offers 50 undergraduate majors, 43 undergraduate minors and 10 graduate degree programs. It is accredited by the Commission of Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and is a member of the NCAA, Division I and the Big South Conference. Visit High Point University on the Web at

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Pam Haynes

Communication Specialist


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