Web-exclusive Biloxi stories

For six days during spring break, more than 400 Kent State United for Biloxi volunteers helped Hurricane Katrina victims in Mississippi. They spent hours every day working to repair the homes, yards and spirits of the people in the community. These volunteers witnessed the devastation, and five of them would like to share their first-hand accounts and what they learned from their experiences.

-Erica Crist, assistant features editor

The Biloxi trip was an experience I will not forget. I am a non-traditional graduate student, and I thought I would be out of place with so many young people. However, they had the opposite reaction to me. I was respected as a mom, and I felt that the young people whom I was around were just like my own.

I knew there was a reason for my going to Biloxi. I did not know what it was; I just knew I had to be there. To the dismay of family and friends, I was still drawn there in spite of an illness I have. What an uplifting experience I had.

The first few days were met with cultural differences, which were worked out instantaneously. I stayed in a tent with 11 other young ladies. Seven were African American, like myself, two were Egyptian, one was Palestinian and three were white – what a culturally diverse tent C5 was. But we were all there for the same purpose: To give of ourselves to help others.

I feel that in so many ways spiritually I was blessed by the people in Mississippi, more than I blessed them. How fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, to know where my next meal is coming from, to have clothes on my back and my family intact. Myself and a group of other students worked at a school and a community center. I could not believe the happiness in these children, some who had lost everything including parents. Their smiles were still so beautiful, and they were so happy we were there.

I give thanks and credit for Dr. Garrison. He was a blessing to us all and one of the true leaders to the students. He actually cared about these students generally and did not brush them off or walk away from them, no matter how trivial or enormous the subject might have been. Dr. George Garrison – you are the best.

The 20 or so African American students who went to Biloxi – I am so proud of you and your character. These are the true leaders of tomorrow. They managed to keep their heads on straight, even though it was rough at times because they were truly the minority on the trip. The devastation was unimaginable, but there was definitely a difference made, which went both ways.

I know that everyone who went on the Biloxi trip came back changed in some kind of great way. Even different obstacles didn’t deter what we were there for, and I feel we are all better people because of the trip, from the youngest to the oldest person. No matter what nationality we are, we proved that we were willing to make a difference, and we did. So students who went – cheers to you.

– Rene Holmes, liberal studies graduate student

For the majority of my time in Biloxi, I worked in the Vietnamese Village. I have to say that it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Just getting to the work site everyday was interesting, because we had to travel down Highway 90, which is right by the beach. The destruction was incredible; I’ve never seen anything like it.

I spent my days helping Nhat, who was helping to rebuild his in-laws’ house. When we started, there was nothing in the house except for the studs. A group had come in prior to our arrival and tore out all the old walls and insulation, and then treated the house for black mold, which Nhat said had been everywhere. Our group went in and put in the new insulation, drywall, and then spackled and sanded the walls. It was hard work, but by the last day, when the house was finished, I felt so accomplished.

It was defiantly a week of new experiences. Everyday, the family brought us homemade food for lunch, which was so good. I also got to talk to some of their neighbors, which was really interesting. You can hear those stories on the news, but when you’re talking to these people, face to face, it has a lot more meaning. I feel that the volunteers who went down there did a lot of good. I’m so glad that I was able to have this experience. It’s something I will never forget.

-Rachel Jackson, freshman nursing major

During the duration of this trip I had the opportunity to learn many different things. This trip was a chance for people with the same passion to make a difference in other people’s lives, not just their own. We had to put aside our differences and act for the better cause. This trip was a chance to do something good for the community and the environment. I had to test my limits mentally, physically and spiritually.

While going down to Past Christian and Biloxi, Mississippi, we had to endure a long bus ride. We arrived on Sunday morning in Pass Christian where we were stationed. We unpacked our clothes in the army tents, which could hold about 15 people, where we had to sleep. We got a chance to visit a Vietnamese Church in East Biloxi. We helped the members of the church by bringing them an office printer, along with Bibles that were donated. A good number of the volunteers helped fix up a lot of homes around the church. People were dry-walling, roofing and putting in electricity. We also cleaned up many yards and streets. We also attended a Baptist Church after the Vietnamese service. We had the chance to meet the members of the church to see what we could do to help them. Many of the homes were in the process of being fixed, so we put in a hand at helping the progress.

The East Biloxi Communication Center was one of the big lines of communication between the many organizations and the groups of people that were working. We were there to locate people at the work sites, tell the drivers were to go and to give directions.

I also got the opportunity to assist Dr. Garrison. We had to go to Home Depot and many other stores to get all the supplies that the workers needed. We were in Home Depot so much that the workers knew who we were. We had to rent trucks to move large amounts of materials back and forth. On Wednesday, I walked around to all of the different sites in Biloxi to check the progress that the groups made and to see if there was anything the homeowners still needed.

During the trip we had to test our physical strengths. There were many days that we had to lift sheet rock, metal bar and other heavy materials. Dr. Garrison and I had to test our mental strength because many of the days we had to work through lunch and dinner. We had to stop what we were doing many days, because the sites didn’t have the right supplies to work on the house or yard that day. It took much time and hard work to keep each site with the right amount of tools and supplies that they needed.

I had to take a step back and look at life during the trip. This trip was a big eye-opener for me and many of the people who went. There were homes torn down. There were cars and trees just sitting inside of people’s homes. People had to sleep on the beach because they had no place to live. To get some food they had to depend on someone else to feed them a meal. There were people working on hundreds of houses, trying to rebuild what life they can. We had to eat at soup kitchen, where sometimes we waited an hour or two for food.

I had to realize that my life is blessed, and I need to stop taking things for granted. I also realized that I can eat whenever I want to at home, but the question is am I hungry when I eat, or do I just eat because it’s there? I have many blessings in my life, and it is my job to give blessings back to someone else. This was an experience that I will never forget. I have taken Biloxi and the heart of its people with me, and I will keep them with me everyday.

-Daniel Calloway, business management technology graduate student

On March 25, 2006. I waited with 400+ people in the cold temperatures for the arrival for the vessels that would transport us to Biloxi. Each bus was loaded up and ready to go within 30 minutes, and then we departed. The overall atmosphere was filled with the excitement of finally starting the journey, but it was also filled with exhaustion due to the early departure time. From the time the buses left until they arrived to Pass Christian, a change had taken place. These large people movers had transformed from vessels of hope to movable prisons for the insane – 24 hours of confinement had made everyone yearn for the time we could arrive and walk on land.

A day after we left Kent, we had finally arrived at our destination. I got off the bus and stretched out my stiff neck and momentarily checked to see if my butt was still attached to my body, which it was! I gathered my belongings and headed to my tent to take a quick nap because we were given extra time to relax! So after waking up and getting ready, 400 Kent State students and 50 Akron students worked together to clean up Pass Christian’s Park. I was told that a 40-foot swell of water hit the coast, and I believed it because there were shells and sand all over the park( which was 300 yards from the beach). After five hours of working in the Sun, everyone headed back to camp and went to bed getting ready for tomorrow’s work.

The following morning everyone woke up and went to get their job assignments. I was the crew leader for the Roofing Crew #11. According to the team roster, there were two crew leaders and six others on the team; however, only two people had shown other than myself. Sarah and Kim were the names of the two others who were Roofing Crew #11. Sadly, we weren’t the only crew who was short handed. There were other groups who had everyone in the group except leaders, so after careful discussion we all merged.

Our first assignment for that day was to go and complete a roof for an elderly gentlemen! As we arrived at the site we realized that there were too many people for that one job. My crew decided to walk down the street and see if we could find another home to help out at. After going to about 10 homes we came across a man who was working with two other men on constructing an addition to his home, which replaced the part of the home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. We got to work right away! By the end of the day we had put up two walls of the second floor and moved about two tons of wood and supplies. Those of us on the crew didn’t know each other too well, but we had started to bond and get closer throughout the day of working! But after we got back to camp we went our separate ways and got ready for another day’s work. On day three, we all woke up and met at 7:45 a.m. to get our job site assignment for the day. We ended up being paired with another roofing crew who was short handed. Our assignment that day was to re-roof a local police officer’s home. Upon arrival, the now 20-person crew gazed at the project that awaited us. We went and met the owner and his family, and as soon as we assessed what needed to be done, the work started!

We hammered and tore roofing scraps off the roof onto the ground beneath. We all worked really well with one another. Laughter, dancing and working filled the job site all day. Later that day, we all grew close and decided that we would come up with a crew name and “JaSaDa” was chosen! JaSaDa ended up working on the same project from day three through day five. During that time period we all became very close with not just each other, but with the family as well. We ended up finishing the roof and everyone smiled because we had helped a great family out. It was an amazing feeling!

After that days work we ended up having one more day to relax and then it was time to head home. Once we arrived back at Kent, a feeling of sadness came over me. I really enjoyed being in Pass Christian helping people out! I miss the tent that I was assigned to ( F-4) and most of all I missed working with JaSaDa. Each of them are amazing people! We all went down as Kent State students and came back brothers and sisters!

-Jacob Roope, sophomore speech pathology and audiology major

For the first time in my three-year college career, I went to the beach for Spring Break. My freshman year I went to Minneapolis, which isn’t exactly the warmest Spring Break destination. Last year’s break was spent playing video games, going to the dentist and watching ESPN.

But this year was different. Waking up less than a mile away from the Gulf of Mexico every morning was great. But, other than sand and salt water, the “beach” didn’t much resemble a stereotypical beach.

But you get the picture. You’ve read the stories in the Stater. You’ve seen the photos. (And, if you haven’t, head to stateronline.com and search “Biloxi.”)

This is supposed to be about my personal experience.

When I signed up for the trip, I was nervous. I don’t have any experience with construction, an one of the main goals was to help with roofing and drywall. But, I like to help people, and I was willing to learn.

I was supposed to be on a roofing crew, but because of a lack of supplies, we were stuck doing odd jobs – holding ladders, picking up nails, picking up trash – for much of Monday morning.

Then, five of us decided to try something else. With the help of the communication center and Americorps, my makeshift crew – which expanded to eight members – was able to meet, and help, many members of the Biloxi and Pass Christian communities.

Monday afternoon was spent at a house in Pass Christian, where we cleaned up trash and bricks that were strewn about the yard. Before Hurricane Katrina, a school was across from the house. In going through the rubble, I found pieces of desks, bookbags and books. And beads. Beads were all over the place.

The next day, we cleared out most of a senior citizen activity center in Long Beach, which is about 10 minutes down the road from Pass Christian.

But Wednesday and Thursday, we made it into East Biloxi. The families we met there, which was already a poor neighborhood before the hurricane, were so greatful for any help we could provide. Pretty much, my group picked up random trash in families’ yards and put it in a pile. We were, however, able to help some people with bigger projects.

We were able to get into one woman’s shed, which hadn’t been opened in six months, and we cleared out the contents. Surprisingly enough, there were some items, though few, that were salvageable. Another woman’s shed wasn’t so lucky. When we got to her house, it was perched on a chainlink fence that separated her yard from the neighbor’s. First, we had to push it off the fence. Then, and here’s the fun part, we got to take out any of our pent-up aggression on that shed with sledghammers.

But for me, the trip wasn’t totally about community service. The trip wasn’t only about helping the residents of Biloxi and Pass Christian.

It was about fellowship. I met so many great people from the university that I may never have met had I not gone on the trip. My crew had a lot of fun working together and hanging out in the evenings. I definitely made a few long-term friends during my week in Biloxi.

There is so much more I could say about the trip. The experiences I has there will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am glad I took the trip, and I am glad I took it as a volunteer. As a journalism major, I would have loved to cover a story like this. But as a person, I was just glad to be there.

-Seth Roy, junior newspaper major