My Arkansas Experience with Rutgers Hillel and JDRC
By Andrew Goldwasser, Class of 2018
“Hey Andrew, would you be interested in coming to Arkansas as an alternative to spring break?” This was the question, which later became my first stepping stone that has brought me to Camp Beaverfork in Conway, Arkansas. My journey to the Natural State began at three a.m. on a Sunday morning to catch a flight to Chicago which connected to Little Rock. After four hours of napping, drooling, and sunrise capturing, we landed at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport where I bumped into an old mentor (because Jewography never stops ever), and it is also where my group of Rutgers and TCNJ students met up with others from upstate New York. The awkwardness was tangible, but spirits were high as we trekked away from the hustle and bustle of the airport and more toward the tranquil and beautiful campsite that is Beaverfork. As we rode to the campsite however, I could not help but notice the leafless (and lifeless for that matter) trees sprawled alongside highways which were stricken by the F4 tornado just over a year ago. Honestly, it was a real horror seeing such devastation right next to the road we were driving on, and I soon realized that this was just the beginning. Fast forwarding through ice breakers, orientation, a delicious Italian dinner co-cooked by yours truly, my exploration of the campsite, and retirement to the bunks after a very long day, the first official day of volunteering arrived.
Waking up at seven in the morning was a dream come true in comparison to the day before and looking out at the fog-laden camp ground was comforting, yet slightly eerie. Starting a little bit behind the group, I quickly rushed to eat a nutritious bowl of Cheerios and packed lunch. Initially, it was composed of a triple decker, banana-honey, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple, but after a big Hass avocado discovery, a cheese and avocado sandwich found a home in my little brown lunch bag. Soon after, Justin, a student volunteer from Geneseo University, led our group in some vigorous stretches to help us all limber up for the day and then we were off to the “good-doing.”
For our first activity of the day, we went to clear a debris pile full of tree limbs and wreckage from a small trailer. This feat might sound infinitesimal, but it lasted for four hours as we placed it all into pick-up trucks, moved to the dumpster site, and threw out all of the debris. The debris pile happened to be located on the property of an elderly woman named Brenda who is still having trouble making ends meet after the tornado a year ago. She talked to our group about how much of an impact we were making on her life and the community because “every drop of water in the bucket counts.” We also helped plant trees in her front and back yards for which she was more than thankful. Coupled with a street address and some trees in the pickup truck, our group traveled to a street not far from where we were. We literally knocked on people’s doors and asked them if they wanted a tree, which I thought was amazing! I mean it’s like we were acting like ice cream truck drivers, but with trees! Yes, we are here on this trip to help rebuild, but I never realized how much fluidity we would have in the schedule. After planting the trees in a stranger’s backyard, we went back to the campsite to make dinner and to get ready for our evening activity which was listening to a panel of survivors from the tornado. The panelists were able to put our hard work into perspective to an immense degree; every piece of wood picked up and discarded is like a huge weight lifted off the shoulders of a property owner. The fact that we are here a year after the disaster just goes to show how damaged this area was, and I can now say that I am making a difference here, one drop of water at a time.