UW-RF Students Pitch In To Rebuild Katrina Community
FEB 10, 2006--Four months after the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, that region of the nation is still not very far along the road to recovery.
But 37 UW-River Falls students and five staff members helped families in Gulfport, Miss., come a few steps closer as they traveled and worked Jan. 7-15, rebuilding homes.
Working with the North Carolina Baptist Men and the Disaster Relief Operation Center, the UW-RF contingent spent each day rebuilding homes: repairing roofs, installing sheet rock, insulating walls and roofs, and removing trees.
While there, the students also kept daily journals. They reflected on their many reactions, from total shock and silence as they toured the devastation and the exhausting days of hard work, to the elation they felt as they helped families move back into their reconstructed homes.
Coordinating the trip was Brent Turner of the UW-RF Leadership Center. "Some students came to my door and said that they would like to go down south, or do something more than just donate money. 'What more can I do?' is a question that students asked," explained Turner.
After the initial interest, Turner decided to take a group of students down south during winter break to help in the relief efforts. He first contacted University of Southern Mississippi's Assistant Dean of Students Michael Mitchell. UW-RF worked with USM on an a Adopt-a-Student program this fall after the hurricane in which UW-RF students donated money and items to help 100 students at that institution harmed by the storm. Turner then contacted the organization Volunteers of America, which is a clearinghouse program for volunteers.
"I expressed that we wanted to be in Mississippi, and they said that Gulfport was one of their biggest needs. It's a smaller community than New Orleans and a lot of students from Southern Mississippi are from that region," says Turner.
Gulfport, Miss., is the second largest city in Mississippi, with a land area of 62 miles and a population of 70,000 in 2004.
"Everything was completely destroyed, especially in the smaller region because their infrastructure wasn't as strong," says Turner. "The coping in the community is still pretty intense."
Many families are still living in shelters, and some are living with family members attending universities around the area. It's very common to hear of two families living in a double room.
The trip to Gulfport was strictly volunteer work; students paid for half of the trip, and the University's Leadership Development and Programming Board will cover the other half.
The students completed six training sessions before leaving for the trip, emphasizing the definitions of service, diversity, reflections and the importance of these themes. The idea of coping was addressed as well as reflection on the entire experience. "The most meaningful thing for me is to help students reflect on themselves," says Turner.
Students kept individual journals throughout the trip as well as group journals. Turner would like to have the students look at what they accomplished and see the effects and look to see what they can do next, even in their own communities.
UW-River Falls Students Services and Programs staff, all of River Falls, accompanied the students on the trip. They included: Brent Turner, leadership training coordinator, Gregg Heinselman, executive director of SSP, Kurran Sagan, recreation coordinator, Karyn Kling, event coordinator, and Kristie Feist, east area coordinator.
Many students have kept in contact with other volunteers and Gulfport residents and are planning to return in a trip planned by the University during Spring Break. Other students plan to create a web site about the experience with photos and links.
A second group of students will be returning to Gulfport during UW-RF's spring break, March 13-17. The UW-RF Foundation has set up an account to help fund the next trip. To donate, send a check payable to the UW-RF Foundation, 410 South Third Street, River Falls, Wis., 54022, and write "Destination" in the memo line of your check.
For credit card donations, please call the UW-RF Advancement Office toll-freeat 877-258-6647.
"Our main goal is heightened awareness and a sense of social responsibility," says Turner. "We want to make service a priority at UW-RF and have more engagement in leadership."
Participants are listed by hometown, year and major.
Andover: Kimberly Betzold, sophomore, elementary education.
Digital photos available; Contact Brenda.firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:07:04 Central Daylight Time
University of Wisconsin - River Falls