Frequently Asked Questions

This is a big undertaking, but Interact has done it for many years, and we can help you better understand how to prepare for one of the most popular and powerful experiences staged at Royal Oak High School!


Why a National Relief Trip?

Interact continues its tradition of a disaster relief trip for many reasons, both for the communities we meet and the students themselves.

  • The kind of work we do simply isn’t done by larger organizations such as FEMA, state agencies, or even insurance companies. Working through National Relief Network and local aid agencies, we find areas of greatest need, where families and communities have found few affordable options to restore their lives to normalcy. All too often, victims of disasters have come to rely upon volunteer organizations like ours.
  • Students learn a variety of skills, of course, in terms of construction; but more, an extended overnight trip offers them opportunities to learn organization, build independent work teams, and self-manage their living arrangements. Most important, for many students, engaging in meaningful physical work builds a sense of accomplishment and purpose difference from anything in the classroom.
Why not work locally?

We are asked this often.  But the answer is easy enough:

  • Why is this an “or” question?  Interact involves itself in dozens of local projects every year!  There is no geographic boundary on compassion for others, nor the assistance we can offer.
  • More, the kind of autonomy students acquire from an extended and long-distance project has its own merits quite different from what might be learned in short-term day projects.
How do you choose where to go?

Working with National Relief Network, Interact selects locations that meet several criteria:

  • Areas with a high immediate need for volunteer assistance (this might be an immediate need like our trip to Joplin or a long-term need like one of our many trips to NOLA);
  • Areas that have been cleared by local emergency agencies for safety reasons and established for organized volunteer work
  • Areas where unskilled labor can be valuable;
  • Areas where a group of our size can be accommodated;
  • Areas warm enough where we can work effectively in February.
How is the price determined?

This is partly set by National Relief Network and is based upon the length of the trip. The price pays for full-time NRN staff to coordinate with local relief agencies, food and tools, and accommodations. The other main part of the trip is a bidding process for bus charters, which includes full-time drivers for the week and their accommodations. In addition, Royal Oak adds a smaller charge on top of the NRN bill to pay for student supplies, an auxiliary vehicle rental, driver tips, and for a recreational or evening activity for the students.

Safety Questions

Adult Supervision

Our trips have a student:adult chaperone ration of about 7:1.  We most often employ work teams on various projects, and students who work on projects that have any danger potential always have adults to assist in planning and implementing such work projects.

Skills Required

We want our students to learn new skills in demolition, construction, or a variety of other tasks. But we never place students in a space that is beyond their capabilities, and we never use power tools without direct supervision.


Injuries are rare on our trips, but minor accidents do happen.  Blisters, small cuts, bruises, etc. are all fairly common. On rare occasion, a trip to a clinic is recommended.  Here are a few precautions to help us treat students as they need:

  • Make sure tetanus shots are up to date
  • Provide all of your available insurance information on the Medical Forms included in the packet
  • List prescription medications used completely and clearly on the Medical Form
  • Let Mr. Chisnell know directly if the student needs custody of, assistance with, or reminders to use prescription medications

Also, please see Required Equipment for supplies all students should have for Safety.

Communication During the Trip

Don’t expect phone calls to work during the day while we’re working. Phone calls in the evening are dependent, of course, upon cellular coverage. However, we will Tweet regular trip updates and post student blog entries of our days.  Follow us!

  • #AltFeb or @schisnell


Required Items

Students on the trip must have several items with them for reasons of safety. Without these, we may not allow them to work on the sites?

  • Steel-soled work shoes or boots.  Our #1 injury possibility is nails or other sharp objects through feet.  Without exception of any kind, we insist all students and chaperons have these on most every work site.  You can pay about $100-200 for full boots that have these, but we recommend re-usable insoles. These can be purchased from several sources now, but we recommend McFeely’s for price and reliability of delivery, and they cost about $30.
  • Leather or hide work gloves.  Having a solid pair of work gloves (or 2 or 3 if they get wet) makes happy workers. Please do not believe that garden gloves or cloth or rubber gloves are in any way satisfactory.  Garden gloves are simply not used on the trip.
  • Hard Hat, safety goggles/glasses, and dust/paint mask.  Students often pack their own and all can be found fairly inexpensively at hardware stores. They are not required on every site, but often are. Our group and NRN often have extras of these items, as well.
  • Heavy pants and socks. Jeans and corduroys, but never–not ever–polyesters or jeggings. We don’t want stray screws or rough wood tearing through clothing.  Athletic socks or stronger are also recommended against bugs in tall grasses.
  • Other Equipment.  Sometimes a particular trip may ask for specific safety gear, but we will make this clear once we know the site and work planned. Our tree planting in the Louisiana swamps, for instance, required hip waders!

Most tools are provided by National Relief Network.  However, occasionally the trip work benefits from having extra tools on hand.  We will let you know if optionally-provided tools are recommended and what these might be. If you decide to provide tools for the trip, though, please understand the following:

  • Tools may not always be returned after the trip.  We return about 80% of tools sent, but occasionally some are lost or broken.
  • Always label tools clearly in permanent marker to assist in returning them.
  • Never provide power tools of any kind without first clearing the donation with Mr. Chisnell. We will want to make special arrangements for keeping these tools secure and in working order for you.
To Pack

We will provide a full packing list for each trip, largely dependent upon where we are staying.  Here are a few items which are regular expectations:

  • Soft-shelled bags like duffles. Please do not pack hard-shell suitcases.  These inhibit our packing and are often broken.
  • Sleeping bag and pillow.  Occasionally we recommend air mattresses.
  • Trash bag or other airtight bag for dirty clothes.
  • Clothing that you do not mind getting permanently stained or otherwise ruined.
  • Basic toiletries, bath towel, etc.  We never stay in hotels. Do not expect anything to be provided.
  • No electronic beauty appliances. We will not have electrical outlets for anything remotely fancy!
  • No electronic entertainments beyond a cell phone or mp3 player.  There is neither time nor electricity for such things.
Who are the Chaperones? Can I Chaperone?

In addition to NRN staff, we include many chaperones on the trip:  teachers and administrators, parents, and alumni from previous trips. All live and work alongside students in the same conditions.

If you are interested in chaperoning, there are several things you must do:

  • Be 21 years or older and physically fit to work in the same conditions as the students
  • Be cleared through the State of Michigan fingerprinting and screening process through our Board Office
  • Be prepared to work closely alongside teenagers and promote their autonomy and responsibility
  • Be prepared to handle additional supervisory responsibilities as needed
  • Follow all of the guidelines for safety, packing, etc. above
  • Complete the Registration Packet on time and/or contact Mr. Chisnell for additional details.  Surprise additions after the trip deadlines are not possible.
  • Chaperon costs may be different from student costs based upon chaperon and student ratios.


What trip guarantees are there?


Please understand.  We are going into disaster areas, sometimes federally-declared disaster zones.  Families and communities are in need.  We cannot predict what the work will be or will not be from day to day, we cannot guarantee weather conditions, we cannot guarantee comfort, and we cannot guarantee that you will stay clean and happy.  There are no hotels, few choices about food, and precious little time for luxury or individual exceptions to our procedures. This is unlike any other student trip you may ever choose.

We can, however, promise that you will work as hard as you are able, that the lessons you draw from the trip are largely based on your open-mindedness about accepting unexpected challenges, and that you will help people in significant ways.  And, if you are very lucky, you will help people with your hands and by listening to their stories.

Where is next year's trip?
We don’t know.  We usually choose the February Break week for our trip (occasionally we have taken Emergency trips where able, such as after Joplin), but we will likely not know the destination until Thanksgiving.