When disaster strikes, Darlene Spracklin-Reid brings together a community to rebuild, all while giving students hands-on learning experience and inspiring the next generation of volunteers.
Ms. Spracklin-Reid, B.Eng.’95, B.Ed.’04, is the co-founder and director of Together by Design (TBD), a not-for-profit that brings together engineering students and apprentices to work on community service projects. Each year since 2009, she has led a team of volunteers to New Orleans to aid the rebuilding process in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The team also works on projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, improving teaching and learning facilities as well as accessible housing.
Ms. Spracklin-Reid is active in several associations including the Rotary Club of St. John’s Northwest and Professional Engineers and Geoscientists Newfoundland and Labrador.
Contributor Lisa Pendergast spoke with Ms. Spracklin-Reid, this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Community Service Award.
LP: As a lifelong volunteer, why do you feel that it is so important to give back, not only to your community, but communities in other countries, as well?
DSR: We all derive so much from being part of a community, whether it is local or the larger global community. I feel the need to give back to that community because, like anything, it needs to be supported to grow and thrive. I think volunteers play a large part in helping communities to remain strong, healthy and resilient. I also think that community is more than proximity, it’s a connection you feel and I feel very connected to the people we work with in Louisiana.
LP: How did you come up with the idea for Together by Design?
DSR: I am passionate about several things that all came together to create TBD. I’m an engineer, an educator and a volunteer. I also have a professional background in construction management. I thought it was important to instill in students an awareness of how they can use their skills to give back to their communities. I feel it helps them further develop their skills and makes them better professionals. I also feel it is incumbent on engineers to be leaders in community service. After all, our mandate is to make the world a better place. Having come from a construction background, I know that respect for the trades and the skills of tradespeople is essential. As a result, TBD was founded to bring students studying the trades and engineering students together in community service.
LP: You have been travelling to New Orleans since 2009 to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. How did you become interested in this specific venture?
DSR: I became interested in New Orleans in particular from watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on television. As each day passed, I couldn’t believe how the situation for the people of New Orleans was worsening instead of improving. I was deeply impacted because it was truly an engineering failure. The city survived the hurricane, but it was the failure of the under-designed levees that caused so much death and destruction. As a professional engineer, I felt I owed something to the city, although I’d never been there. I felt drawn to use my engineering skills to try to help ameliorate the damage.
P: Has there been a specific moment during your career when it really hit you how important volunteer work is? What was that moment?
DSR: There are so many. I think about Ms. Faith, a preschool teacher who was only days from moving back into her home. She had been out of her home for five years, waiting on insurance payments, contractors, etc., when someone stole the wiring out of her walls. I will never forget the tears of joy she cried when our volunteers rewired her home.
I also think quite often of Linda who suffered from ALS and lost everything she owned. She spoke to my students about how lucky she felt. By losing everything, she said she learned that it isn’t the things we own, it’s the people in our lives, the relationships we build that mean the most. I will never forget her or what a gift she gave us that day.
During my education degree that I became involved in my first service learning experience in a course taught by the late Dr. David Dibbon, who also taught me in high school. We volunteered at the Froude Avenue Community Centre. I was inspired by him to create those same opportunities for my own students.
LP: Do you have any advice for Memorial University students or alumni who are considering becoming volunteers?
DSR: Volunteering has brought so much to my life. People, relationships and experiences that have impacted me deeply. You get much more out of volunteering than you ever put in. One of the things that my experience as a Rotarian has taught me is that we all have the capacity to volunteer. Some more than others, and that changes as our lives changes, we enter different stages of life, are able to give more or give less. But, whatever you contribute has an impact on someone (probably the biggest impact is on yourself).
LP: What was your reaction to being named the Outstanding Community Service Award recipient for 2017?
DSR: I was shocked! When I received the call, I thought perhaps one of our awesome volunteers had been nominated for something or had won a scholarship from the university. I felt honoured that anyone would put the time in to nominate me, and surprised. It does feel a little strange to get an award for doing something that I just truly love doing.
Ms. Spracklin-Reid will be honoured during the 36th annual Alumni Tribute Awards on Thursday, Sept. 7, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online. For any inquiries, please call the Office of Alumni Affairs, Public Engagement at 1 (877) 700-4081 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.