WSU interns from Arlington giving back after slide

ARLINGTON — Hannah Hoffman had just returned to Pullman after spring break when she saw the first headlines pop up on the Internet.

The Arlington native remembers reading the words “mudslide in Oso.”

“Nobody knew where Oso is,” she said. “So to see this big headline, I thought, ‘Oh gosh, what happened?’?”

During the next few weeks, the 20-year-old Washington State University student checked a growing list of the names of those confirmed dead in the March 22 slide. She was afraid to see one she recognized.

She never did. But she knows others who were not so lucky. The Oso mudslide claimed 43 lives.

Hoffman, who studies natural resource sciences at WSU, wanted to do something to help. When Washington State University announced a summer internship program geared toward aiding the cities of Arlington and Darrington, she applied.

Josh Robinson, another 20-year-old WSU student who grew up in Arlington, was packing his bags to head back to Pullman when he first heard about a mudslide up the highway.

“It was hard to pack up and leave,” he said. “This is a pretty small community. But at first, I don’t think anyone thought it was that magnitude.”

When he came to Arlington for a visit a few weeks later, he drove by command centers bustling with activity. That’s when it hit home, he said.

Robinson found out that his younger brother had lost a friend to the mudslide: 13-year-old Jovon “JoJo” Mangual.

“From the beginning, I wanted to find a way to give back,” Robinson said.

He worried the broadcast production skills he’d been honing wouldn’t be very useful in recovery efforts. Then he heard about a WSU internship opportunity with the city of Arlington.

The university sought students interested in Oso recovery efforts, then tried to match areas of interest and expertise with community needs in Darrington, Arlington and elsewhere in Snohomish County, said Michael Gaffney, associate director of WSU’s Division of Governmental Studies and Services.

“We want to be a resource for locally driven recovery, not someone coming in from outside and deciding what to do,” he said.

Hoffman and Robinson are two of 12 students participating in the nine-week program.

Hoffman is researching Arlington’s water resources in preparation for any future disasters. The bulk of her job involves recording data from city records so Arlington can map access points for its water system.

After the mudslide, the city turned off its municipal water supply and relied on the Snohomish County Public Utility District until Arlington water could be checked for contaminants. Hoffman’s research will help the city develop a better emergency water plan, she said.

Robinson is filming and producing two promotional videos for the city, one for the police department and the other for the fire department. The city intends to use them for professional and volunteer recruitment, he said.

Nine of the WSU interns are from Arlington, one is from Snohomish and two are not from the area, said Sylvia Kantor, communications coordinator for the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Most of the Arlington students in the internship program are also receiving tuition waivers for the coming school year, she said.

Three of the interns are working with the city of Arlington, two with Darrington, one with Snohomish County and six with the university, either in Pullman or at its Snohomish County extension.

Hoffman and Robinson agree that the most eye-opening experience during their internships has been hearing from first responders.

“This was a huge impact on our small community,” Hoffman said. “Hearing about it was a big impact on me.”

Robinson said the scope of the slide was impossible to grasp until he saw it in person.

“I don’t think pictures do it justice,” he said. “It doesn’t come close to the reality.”

The interns are learning practical skills, Gaffney said, but are gaining a deeper sense of community and service that he hopes will last long beyond the internship.

“They are learning about resilience and sacrifice and, some of them, about heroism,” he said. “They’re seeing what a disaster can do to a community and how a resilient community can react to a disaster.”

Washington State University has made a two-year commitment to aid recovery efforts in Arlington, Darrington and Oso, Gaffney said.

So far, WSU plans a fundraising banquet in Pullman on Sept. 5, along with a community service week in Darrington this fall.

WSU Snohomish County Extension also hired Judy Pendergrass of Darrington as a full-time community and economic development coordinator for the city through 2016.

“We’ve been really deliberate about making ourselves available but not promising that we know all the answers or even have all the right questions,” Gaffney said. “Those interns are just the tip of the iceberg, and we don’t know what the rest of the iceberg will look like yet.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, kbray@heraldnet.com.

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