Spending a summer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or taking a year-long job gutting homes destroyed in the storm are not typically how 20-something college students spend their free time, but that is exactly what two Kent State students decided to do.
Matt Greenfield, senior applied conflict management major, said he wanted to help out immediately but was unable to take time off school. Instead, Greenfield started making plans midway through last year to take a trip in the summer.
On June 7, he went down to New Orleans, La., through a program called Common Ground Relief, to do his part in the relief efforts.
“I went down alone, but I knew people who were already there,” Greenfield said. “I also met a lot of new people.”
He stayed in a schoolhouse, which was converted into temporary housing and had, at any given time, at least 100 people living in the building.
“Staying there was an interesting and new experience for me,” he said. “It was a lot of work to maintain the building.”
Greenfield’s other work included setting up free clinics in the ninth ward, fundraising, working with kids through the relief program and hosting free breakfasts and lunches for residents.
He said he spent a lot of his time working in the lower ninth ward, which was hit much harder than other areas.
“It was really bad,” he said. “It looked like the end of the world down there.”
Kent State graduate Kim Thompson also knew right away she wanted to volunteer.
“I didn’t even know the extent of the devastation,” she said. “I just knew people needed help.”
Thompson went on last year’s Spring Break trip hosted by Kent State United for Biloxi, but she was not stationed in Biloxi like many students. Instead, she spent the week in Pass Christian, Miss.
She said when she arrived she was shocked because, although it had been seven months since the hurricane, it seemed like it had only been a few weeks.
“Then I saw photos from when the hurricane first hit, and it was so much worse than I ever imagined,” Thompson said.
She stayed in a temporary housing facility for displaced residents called AmeriCorps Village.
“We slept on cots,” she said. “It was like a mini army camp.”
Thompson and a crew of about 20 people spent the week fixing roofs of houses damaged in the storm.
Both Greenfield and Thompson agreed that the residents of the towns they worked in were very appreciative of their efforts and also humbled by their experiences.
“Being able to help out made me want to go back,” Thompson said. “I immediately checked for job opportunities, and for the next 12 months I am gutting homes in New Orleans.”
She said most people who still live in Pass Christian didn’t have a lot to offer the volunteers, but they would sit and talk with them, cook for them, buy pizza and pop and share stories of their Katrina experiences.
“Residents were just happy that people were there to help,” Greenfield said. “They are trying to get their lives back in order, and volunteers help speed up that process.”
Contact general assignment reporter Elise Franco at [email protected]
Volunteer: restore what was devastated
If you’re interested in helping restore Gulf Coast regions affected by the storm, consider volunteering with some of these organizations:
• Alternative Spring Break Gulf Coast, a division of think MTV and the United Way, took 100 students to hurricane-ravaged areas to help with relief efforts last March. This spring break, they will do the same. Interested students should apply online at www.mtv.com/thinkmtv.
• The USA Freedom Corps joins with non-profit and service programs to create a network of opportunities for would-be volunteers. The organization’s Web site, www.usafreedomcorps.gov, helps users find volunteer opportunities in the Gulf Coast region and ways to help from home.
• Campus Compact promotes civil and community service by college students and mobilized thousands of students to participate in Katrina relief during their spring breaks. Ohio Campus Contact, of which Kent is an affiliate, can be found online at www.ohiok-16service.org.
• Through Habitat for Humanity International, interested volunteers can sign up to help build houses for Gulf Coast residents whose homes were destroyed by the storm. Visit www.habitat-nola.org to learn more.
• Katrina Aid Today offers practical support through volunteer agencies across the country. Although it is a division of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Katrina Aid Today provides services to people of all religions and denominations. Visit them at www.katrinaaidtoday.org.
– Kate Bigam
A list of national relief and volunteer organizations compiled by the Corporation for National and Community Service can be found online at www.nationalservice.org/about/newsroom/katrina.asp.