Livingston CARES revolutionizes student perspective, Zach Bodenweber explains

A year after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, and nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Geneseo students, faculty and community members of Livingston County CARES remain dedicated to relief efforts. According to Livingston CARES President and Dean of Leadership and Service Tom Matthews, Geneseo students and community members created the program in fall 2005, after student response to Hurricane Katrina prompted the college to reach out to victims of the disaster.

“We came together and, in a total of maybe 40 minutes, Livingston CARES was born,” Matthews said. “It was the first time the college had, as a college, come together to do a service project like this.”

Matthews said that since its first trip in spring 2006 the organization has sent a total of 914 volunteers on 37 separate trips to Biloxi, Miss. and, after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, to Staten Island and Long Island to aid the disaster relief and recovery efforts there.

While Matthews said he always encourages students to volunteer in any way possible, he claims the trips offer a uniquely fulfilling service experience.

“One day of service can certainly be meaningful,” Matthews said. “But a full week dedicated to this kind of volunteerism can be life-changing for many people.”

The rewarding nature of the work is what keeps some students coming back year after year. Senior Zach Bodenweber, Matthews says, is one of those serial volunteers.

Bodenweber, a member of the Livingston CARES board of directors and the newly appointed student trip coordinator, is a four-time Biloxi and Long Island trip veteran, who will be returning to Mississippi in January 2014 for his fifth and final trip.

Like many students, Bodenweber said, he signed up for the trip thinking of the opportunity as merely a resume builder.

“But it turned out to be so much more than that for me,” Bodenweber said. “[The trips] inspire this commitment to service in people, anyone who's been involved with service can understand how rewarding it is.”

Both Matthews and Bodenweber said the program is continually working on ways to promote the trips to the student body and encourage students to get involved.

Bodenweber said that, for him, the most important part of program is its ability to “foster a passion for service in the volunteers.” This passion has helped him determine his potential career path.

“Meeting the families and realizing the root of so many of their struggles are due to the legal and social structures of our country has opened my eyes,” he said. “[It has] changed the type of work I want to do, the kind of graduate programs I want to look into … It's what inspired my interest in social policy.”