Student Devotes Summer to Flood Victims

Daniel Greene, a 16-year-old from Atlanta, wanted to work outdoors for the summer. He thought about construction work, but wound up doing de-construction work instead.

"We're not here to fix these houses," Greene said. "It's really to fix [people's] spirits."

After seeing Iowans who were devastated by the floods this June, Greene told his dad that he wanted to spend his summer helping flood victims.

But almost all the aid organizations expected volunteers to be at least 18. Greene kept trying and eventually discovered Hands On Disaster Response, a volunteer program working in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Greene's dad found a family for him to live with in Iowa, and Greene packed his sleeping bag and went off for the summer.

Daniel GreenePlay

"I knew if was going to come ... you can't come to a place like this and leave," Greene said. "You want to stay out here as long as you can to give as much help as possible."

During the height of the floods, around 10,000 people evacuated their homes to escape the river's water, which crested at 32 feet. In the aftermath, more than 5,000 homes in Cedar Rapids remain in need of repair.

Volunteers like Greene empty homes of waterlogged possessions, rip out soaked drywall and insulation, and power-hose the mold.

Though the work is hard, hot and smells of mildew, Greene loves it. Along with a group of volunteers, he works from sun-up to sundown, devoting his time to two or three houses a day.

After just four days on site, his devotion did not go unnoticed: Hands On Disaster Response made him a team leader. It also awarded him the Golden Sledgehammer of Excellence Award.

Hands On Disaster cleaned out 151 homes and removed 10,000 cubic yards of debris in 30 days. It has developed a network of nearly 1,050 volunteers.

"You get a feeling for who the people were by searching through the debris," Greene said. "Just really trying to understand what's going through their mind -- you kind of see what their life's been like and how it's destroyed now. It's tough."

The biggest challenge is the human one, working with devastated homeowners.

"You have to be prepared to deal with their emotional state," Greene told ABC News. "I've had a couple break down and cry. You have to try to make them understand that it's not over."

On Saturday, Greene's "vacation" ends so he can start his senior year of high school. He returns to Atlanta, having devoted not only his time to this cause, but also his heart.

To learn more about Hands On Disaster and Project Cedar Rapids, visit its Web site.