Lending a helping hand

Aman Ali

Kent State United for Biloxi volunteers return

Junior Lauren Henin, conflict management major, hammers nails into Kurt Lagenvacher’s Pass Chrisitian, Miss., home last Wednesday along with John Marshall, junior english major, and Stacey Schnee, junior math education major. Lagenvacher, a second year po

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

More than 400 Kent State students returned home from spring break on Saturday after a week of helping Hurricane Katrina victims in Mississippi.

“We wanted students to get out of their comfort zones and help someone,” said Ron Perkins, one of the organizers of the Kent State United for Biloxi project, and assistant director of University Dining Services.

Students worked in and around Biloxi and Pass Christian (pronounced “Christienne”), two Mississippi cities located near the Gulf of Mexico. According to assessment reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hurricane Katrina created “catastrophic damage” in both cities.

The location

Students stayed at The Village, a military tent community built over an old baseball park in Pass Christian. The tents shelter Hurricane Katrina evacuees and volunteers.

“This camp has helped me a lot,” said Francis Griffith, a Pass Christian resident who has been living at The Village for the past six months. “We had a nice town before the hurricane hit, and this camp is one of the only things we have now.”

Aside from sleeping on cots for a week, Kent State volunteers adapted to using portable toilets, low-pressure community showers and sinks at the camp.

After getting ready each day between 7 and 8 a.m., volunteers were transported to work sites in Pass Christian and Biloxi. For food, volunteers ate meals for the first few days at God’s Katrina Kitchen, a food shelter near The Village. During the latter half of the week, meals were served on site at The Village.

After each day of work, students were able to relax and hang out with other members at the camp.

“Our tent got really close,” said Jessica Schuckert, sophomore music education major. “We played Euchre, and I did a lot of hair and massages for the people in my tent.”

During the last two nights in Biloxi, volunteers took part in talent shows. A contest was held the last night with cash prizes for the top two entrants.

The work

“We are not down here to build,” Perkins told a group of volunteers on the first day of work. “We are down here to help people.”

With coordination from Katrina relief agencies in the area, Kent State work crews were dispersed to more than a dozen homes needing repair in Biloxi and Pass Christian. Most of the work done on the homes included insulating walls, building drywall and repairing roofs.

“A good crew of people are working here,” said Kevin Hodar, senior political science major. “There are a broad range of people who are just learning and having fun to people who have done this for years and been around the block a couple times.”

Other crews cleaned up debris from the hurricane’s devastation. Chase Watson, junior hospitality management major and member of the Kent State Ice Sculpture Team, swung around all week in a rope harness cleaning debris in trees with a chainsaw.

“It’s a lot safer than what other people think,” Watson said referring to his tree work. “I’ve done rock climbing and ice carving before so it was like putting both skills together. The only hard part was trusting to let go when I was up there.”

A few work crews stayed on site working at The Village. Because of cost, FEMA plans on removing the current portable showers at the camp in the next few weeks. To accommodate, Kent State volunteers set the groundwork for permanent showers and latrines. Perkins said The Village would be a permanent structure in Pass Christian for the next five years.

Expressing their gratitude

Kent State United for Biloxi is just one of many organizations the people of Biloxi and Pass Christian were thankful for.

“I served in Vietnam and saw the worst people can do,” said Gary Reid, director of the Pass Christian Community Action Network. “This hurricane showed the opposite. These volunteer efforts have show the best of humanity.”

Reid said volunteers from 49 states and five countries have supplied relief efforts to Pass Christian and Biloxi. Although plans have not yet been finalized, Kent State United for Biloxi organizers intend on doing a similar project next year.

Contact student affairs reporter Aman Ali at [email protected].