SHU Delegation Continues to Rebuild Efforts in the Hurricane-Ravaged Gulf Region
About two dozen students, faculty and staff members from Sacred Heart University ushered in the New Year by spending a week (Jan. 7-14) in the still hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to take part in “Mississippi Matters,” a program created by the university to assist and offer relief efforts in the area that was hit by the unprecedented Katrina storm of 2005. This year’s trip continues the commitment the University made to the residents of the Gulf region over five years ago and the resolve to aide with the long-term recovery and reconstruction of the region.
Students in this year’s delegation were Joseph Bauco, Laura Callahan, Brian Casey, Amy Comley, Arianna DeLucia, Olivia Durning, Philip Farrelly, Steven Fiorenza, Amanda Francini, Veronica Gragnano, Erin Haynes, Nicole Krys, Kelly Leather, Monica Leisner, Veronica McGorry, Kevin Medeiros, Brian Peterson, Leah Richards, Javier Vidal Jr., Michael Wright and Alexa Wrinn. They were joined by faculty and staff advisors Kristy Cioffi, Michael Giarratano, Brad Hotchkiss and Steven Wrinkle.
Sacred Heart University is rooted in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition that calls for social justice for the common good. Additionally, Sacred Heart offers service learning and volunteer programs that prepares students for a lifelong commitment to promoting social change within the community and greater world. “Mississippi Matters” is among many trips students, faculty and staff are offered to help those in need in the United States and elsewhere.
Called by then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin “the storm we had always feared,” the 2005 natural disaster and the subsequent floods killed nearly 2,000 people in the Gulf region, and is ranked as one of the costliest disasters in history. More than five years later, reconstruction continues and many area residents are still living in temporary dwellings.
While students and staff members who descended on the area this week found a region still wrought with insurmountable damage, they also found a place that is beacon of hope and promise of a brighter future.
Leather, student body president and a senior, has been dedicated to help rebuilding the Gulf region throughout her tenure at Sacred Heart and once again, helped spearhead this year’s trip. The SHU delegation partnered with a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, for the week to help build homes for those displaced by Katrina.
As they arrived in the region, the delegation had an opportunity to tour New Orleans and the city’s 9th Ward, which was thrust onto the national map when it suffered unprecedented flooding and damage. The group also had the chance to view actor Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” project, which is committed to re-developing the 9th Ward by building sustainable homes.
“At the end of the day, as human beings, we’re here to serve, we’re here to do the right thing and to help those in need,” said Leather, a Political Science and Religious Studies double major. “The people in the Gulf literally had their lives interrupted and changed forever, and I think we have the opportunity to help them push forward.” Leather said the determination that she sees in Gulf residents continues to amaze her, adding that it’s paramount Sacred Heart continues the tradition of helping the area until the work is complete.
Cioffi, director of Alumni Relations, made her inaugural trip to the Gulf with students and colleagues this year and called the mission “powerful,” which underscores Sacred Heart’s commitment to improving the world.
“As an American, I feel obligated to help my fellow sisters and brothers who lost their homes and their lives in 2005, and then hit again when the region was devastated in the spring by the BP oil spill,” Cioffi aid of the deep-water disaster that caused more extensive damage to the environment and economy in Gulf area.
Bauco, a junior from Bridgeport, also making his first trip to the region with the SHU delegation, admitted that he was surprised at some of the conditions he saw in New Orleans, where some areas remain devastated. “This trip was life-changing for me and the things I learned this week and took away from the mission is something I'll use for the rest of my life,” he said.
Bauco said one of the trip's highlights was spending a day with fifth-graders at a local elementary school in Mississippi, who, he said, have witnessed tremendous devastation throughout their lives -- from the hurricane to the recent oil spill.
“I think the message I took away this week is that there is still work to be done there, and we can't forget about this region despite the amount of time that has elapsed," Bauco said. "There is a great sense of hope among the people of the Gulf.”