Monday, May 14, 2007

University of Wyoming Spring Break

All the way from Laramie, Wyoming, a vibrant group of college students from the University of Wyoming chose to spend their spring break on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. If there was ever a team prepared for the work they were going to do, it would be this team. They began planning this trip in November of 2006 and had each team member participate in "how-to" clinics at local home improvement stores. They asked question after question in the months before their trip that gave us the confidence that they were serious about this trip and working hard while they were in Mississippi.

As a result of their planning, they arrived ready to hit the ground running. Their time in Mississippi was full of working on homes, visiting families, and learning more about the region and how Katrina affected more than just tearing buildings down. These volunteers found themselves on the roof of a house repairing and reroofing a section that was damaged from Hurricane Katrina. They also worked on completing a final checklist of items for a house for a 95-year old lady whose home was damaged beyond repair by Katrina.

Part of learning about Katrina is visiting the families who were damaged by the storm both physically and emotionally. This team made the first visits to several families along the coast after a meeting with their caseworker. They took pictures, wrote down their story, and gave Restoration Point a first impression of the situation and the list of needs for the family.

A unique experience for volunteer teams, the Wyoming team took a trip to Plaquemine's Parish, LA to visit a relief organization working in the southern part of the Parish to learn about their recovery plans and efforts. They were not prepared for what they saw and listened intently to the local pastor who gave the group a tour of the community. At one stop on the tour, there were three alligators warming in the sun. One student remarked, "Now I can go home. I have worked hard, ate a lot, and now, I've seen an alligator."

The Wyoming group also took a tour of St. Bernard's Parish in New Orleans to see areas around the levee break points. An AmeriCorps NCCC team from Sacramento, CA led this activity and was able to point out some areas where they had worked while stationed in New Orleans.

This volunteer experience for these students from the University of Wyoming was more than just a trip to work on some houses. They gained exposure to the community, met families that had lived through the storm and were struggling to recover, and got to meet with and talk with other disaster relief organizations around the area. Restoration Point is very grateful for this team, their energy, and the sacrifices they made to be in Mississippi. They were a fun team to have here!

Monday, May 7, 2007

North Carolina A&T State University

A wonderful team from North Carolina A&T State University came to Pass Christian, MS at the beginning of March 2007. This team prepared before arriving by working with various departments within the university to gain experience on certain aspects of construction work. For example, their maintenance department set up a "how-to" clinic on wiring outlets. Dr. Palmer and the rest of the NC A&T team arrived ready to work and to do as much as they could for the recovery efforts.

Some of the team members found themselves underneath houses stabilizing foundations for new homes. Unfortunately, one of the homes had a great deal of cat droppings and made for an unpleasant work morning until tarps arrived. Others worked on removing an old roof, making repairs, and then putting a new roof on. Part of the team comprised of doctors and nurses who made special visits to families to check on how they were doing from a medically perspective, both physically and mentally. This allowed for a unique type of visitation and encouragement for these families.

One special project that this team undertook was adopting a street in Pass for the week. They visited the homeowners that were back on their street, they picked the street clean of debris that had yet to be removed from Katrina, and helped one family move out of their FEMA trailer and into their newly restored home. This experience had a great impact on the team members that participated in this project.

All of those team members that visited different families all along the coast made a personal connection to a family affected by Hurricane Katrina. They now had faces to go with Katrina and stories of perseverance, determination, and gratefulness that they did not see on the news. Each night at dinner, a team leader from each project would share with the rest of the team about their work for the day, who they met, and their observations. Many laughs were shared but there were also many moments of reflection and silence as team members thought about the road ahead for these communities.

North Carolina A&T State University brought many unique skills and perspectives to Pass Christian, MS. The team was able to visit numerous families, complete several work projects that moved 5 families closer to moving into their homes, and encouraged an entire community by taking the time to clean a street in a low-income neighborhood. They did a wonderful job!
To the team: Thank you for your hard work, your willingness to get dirty, and the many smiles and memories you left here along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Come back soon!