Monday, July 19, 2010

Employee Uses Vacation to Volunteer in Haiti

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager

Every year, Rio Salado College employees volunteer thousands of hours to hundreds of charities throughout the Valley and state. While the bulk of volunteer hours are concentrated on local charities, some employees have taken their efforts international. Recently, Benjamin Russell, a web technician at the Tempe-based college, used his week of vacation time to volunteer in earthquake-devastated Haiti.

The decision to volunteer in Haiti started with Russell’s sister, Megan Plunkett, who sponsors a child in Haiti through the Brent Gambrell Ministries — the group that organized the trip.

“Ever since the earthquake I wanted to visit Haiti, and when she told me she was going, I immediately knew I wanted to go as well,” said Russell. “I enjoy helping people in need, and I really felt inspired to go on this trip when I first heard about it. As a Christian, I am called to show God’s love to those in need, and I find it incredibly rewarding to see the happiness less fortunate people have when you show them love and compassion.”

While Russell was on vacation, his time in Haiti was not spent relaxing, which is exactly what he wanted from this trip.

“On several days, the group I was with helped clear the foundation for a house our organization was planning on building for a widow,” said Russell. “The team moved approximately 60 tons of rubble in just a few days to allow the next team to already start building the house.”

According to Russell, he took pride in all of his volunteer efforts, but it was the interaction with Haitians that gave him the most joy.

“On one day, I helped out at the pair of orphanages housing teenagers,” said Russell. “While I was there, the groups painted classrooms, helped correct electrical problems, sorted medicine and took on other many other much needed tasks. For two other days, we helped at a local school that was part of a church. The first day, I assisted a teacher, and the second day I got to teach myself. The kids had fun doing crafts, hearing stories, and playing several games.”

On his last day in Haiti, Russell had the opportunity to drive through other areas to observe the magnitude of the damage. During the ride, he saw firsthand the effect of the earthquake as rows of buildings were sitting in rubble.

“One of the most moving moments was seeing Haiti’s equivalent to the (United States) White House, simply sitting in ruins from the earthquake,” he said. “But the hardest part of traveling through the city was knowing that every building in ruins meant tens to hundreds of lives lost.”

Russell won’t have any vacation time for a while, but said he doesn’t have any regrets about going to Haiti and that it is something he will always remember.

“The trip was definitely life changing,” he said. “It was amazing and tragic at the same time.”

To learn more about Rio Salado College, visit To learn more about Brent Gambrell Ministries and its efforts in Haiti, visit