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Kerstens’ knowledge of house repair aids in Harvey relief efforts

By Larshell Green
On September 13, 2017

Senior political science major Caleb Kerstens and his friend Kyle Blackburn traveled to Texas to aid in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. After transporting supplies, Kerstens and Blackburn helped citizens with the gutting of their homes as seen above. Courtesy of Kristie Gilchrist

At the peak of natural disasters, people rush to aid those affected by using their expertise and generosity. The same rings true for university student Caleb Kerstens. 

Senior political science major Kerstens returned to Hammond after heading to Texas on Thursday, Aug. 31 and returning on the night of Monday, Sept. 5. He took the journey with friend Kyle Blackburn and immediately realized before aiding those affected by Hurricane Harvey, he would have to find an alternate route because of road closures.

“It was surprising that the interstates closed at the state line,” said Kerstens. “You couldn’t even make it to Houston, so I can only imagine what the devastation is like.”

During the trip, the pair also had car trouble. However, they used the opportunity to ask how they could be of assistance to others. 

“We got a flat tire while driving around looking for people that needed help between Port Arthur and Beaumont in a town called Groves, Texas,” said Kerstens. “After we fixed the tire, I went to the gas station and asked people there if they or anyone they knew needed help, and a woman pointed us in the direction of her son’s house that had flooded.”

After asking several people if they needed assistance, Kerstens and Blackburn ran into a woman named Kristie Gilchrist who was helping her friends Kristi and Stephen Whitten. The couple admitted that they would appreciate help repairing their homes. 

“We helped the Whittens, gut their house, and the biggest thing we brought was not only our labor but our house gutting expertise that we gained during last year’s flood,” said Kerstens. “Next, we gutted Kristi Whitten’s mother and grandmother’s house.”

According to Kerstens, he and Blackburn decided to distribute Microban, a product used to kill mold and mildew spores. While aiding in the devastation, Kerstens was pleased to share some of their knowledge on home repairs and construction.

Kerstens described the process: “It saves people a lot of money when gutting their house. It takes four to six ounces to treat houses. It’s like $300 a gallon, but you have to have someone treat your house because you have to get cleared to get a building permit before you rebuild your house. It has to be treated for mold and mildew. Sometimes it’s upwards of $2500 to $3000. People that never flooded don’t know that you can’t just change out the bottom half of the door frame. You have to take the whole door frame out. It’s really a hard situation to be in. It’s very overwhelming.”

Kerstens explained the amount of preparation that went into ensuring that the trip was successful. He and Blackburn raised money for supplies by utilizing Facebook and Venmo, an electronic payment sharing tool.

“We were as prepared as we possibly could be,” said Kerstens. “We had a pretty good idea of what to expect using the devastation from last year’s flood as reference. We also brought a trailer full of supplies and raised $1800 that went towards more supplies that we donated to churches in Texas.”

Blackburn deemed the trip an overall success. After delivering food and personal supplies, gutting houses, and donating cleanup items, he was honored to be of assistance. 

“The couple we originally helped came to the second house we were at, which was the wife’s mother and grandmother’s house, and cried while hugging us and thanking us,” said Blackburn. “This trip was not meant to be rewarding in any way. These people needed help, and we gave them what we could without anything in return. We were just there to help.”

Kerstens admitted that although the trip was not intended to be pleasant, he and Blackburn were thankful for the new friendships and memories that they made. 

“Chad and Kristie Gilchrist provided us with a place to stay and food to eat,” said Kerstens. “We couldn’t have asked for any better treatment, and this made our experience much more enjoyable. It was a very rewarding experience to help people in their time of need. I’m just glad I could be of assistance in the healing process of this devastating disaster.”

Blackburn shared his plans for lending a helping hand to organizations near him.

“I am locally still participating in and campaigning for a donation drive through LSU Pre- Dental Society where the donations will be sent to various organizations to be distributed throughout the affected areas,” said Blackburn. “Also, I plan on going back to Port Neches on upcoming weekends to continue to assist people in the cleanup and rebuild.”

With the threat of another hurricane, Kerstens admitted that he would like to go and help those who will be affected by Hurricane Irma.

“The most rewarding part of the trip was being able to draw from our experience from the tragedy suffered in last year’s flood and use the experience we gained to help them negotiate the overwhelming severity of their situation,” said Kerstens. “When there’s a will, there’s a way. The Lord will provide a way as long as you’re putting in the effort to better someone else. I’ve helped people before, but the feeling you get from helping someone else who feels so overwhelmed that they can’t help themselves is very rewarding, and it’s slightly euphoric.


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