By Rosie Alchalel (‘21)

In August and September of 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houstaners, yet, when the San Diego Jewish Academy sophomores visited in early-November 2018, the community was still in mourning, living with the storm’s impact.

The visiting tenth graders also witnessed the hurricane’s prolonged effects. “It’s never too late to help,” says Fania Pupko (‘21). “We went to Houston 13 months after Harvey but people still needed my help. Help that I didn’t even know I could provide.”

Along with fellow SDJA faculty Kristine Schneid and Tommy Collins, English teacher Brendan Riley joined the students on their trip. “We weren’t there primarily as tourists,” Riley says. “We spent two days in a neighborhood that we probably never would’ve visited otherwise.” He points out that this trip was different than field trips the Academy has undertaken in past years. “Meeting people, going into their homes, and actually putting our hands to work, doing manual labor, and having to cope with the unfamiliarity of all that is very different than sightseeing.”

Nearly forty students spent two days working on three different homes that had been left in ruins. “The days were definitely very long,” affirms Alex Waiss (‘21), “but I gained a lot of insight into different people’s lives from the experience, and it was definitely worth it.” Gabriel Simpser (‘21) was also happy to describe the time he spent in Houston. “The first day I painted the whole day,” he said. “Paint got everywhere and it was very messy, but it was very fun because I got to work with all my friends.” His second day was different, however. “They moved me to a house where I put up drywall. It was honestly much harder work, but I felt like I made a big difference.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 3.07.44 PM.png
Sophomores (left to right) Parker Goodman, Mark Zaga,
Jayden Youngleson and Devin Markus hang up drywall.
Photo: Brendan Riley

Another sophomore on the Houston trip, Michaela Simble (‘21), recollects, “my team and I did a thing called caulking, which is this white stuff that you put in the walls to close holes. It was hard so I took a lot of breaks.” Leya Shaw (‘21) adds, “caulking made an enormous difference once I took a step back to admire my work. Although my time in Houston wasn’t much, I think that a little went a long way.”

Students returned to school the following week with many new memories. “Once we finally finished working for the day,” Jed Edelstein (‘21) recounts, “it was incredible to take a step back and look at all the little differences we made and how they added up to make a big impact.” Edelstein is also eager to work on future programs that involve the different construction skills that he acquired. “The look on Mr. Chambers’s [the homeowner] face,” he says “was priceless and it filled me with joy.”

The trip to Houston not only opened the students’ eyes to a different demographic of the United States but also opened their hearts to a new part of their souls. As Fania Pupko (‘21) declares, “I think people need to realize that helping others doesn’t take away from their personal lives. I believe that we are all interconnected, so doing something nice for someone who can’t do it for themselves will inspire them to help someone else in turn and continue the cycle, a domino effect.”

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