Annual Mission Trip to Mississippi is Rewarding for Students
Hurricane Katrina brought devastation that was almost unfathomable to much of the country. Since August 2005, the aftermath of the disaster has lingered in much of the Gulf Coast area. Sacred Heart University students and staff continued to lend a hand, sending a seventh delegation to Lucedale, Mississippi, this past January.
The group of 20 students and five faculty and staff, spent a week volunteering for the ongoing efforts to rebuild. Led by juniors Javier Vidal and Michael Wright, the group worked tirelessly throughout the week, teaming with the George County Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Both Vidal and Wright were participants on the trip in 2011 and graciously filled the spots as delegation leaders this year. Wright found it essential to continue bringing SHU students to areas of Mississippi in desperate need.
“Knowing that people don’t have a home and are living in unacceptable conditions makes it all the more meaningful that we can make a difference. As a student leader, it’s also nice to see everyone’s personal growth from the beginning of the trip to the end,” said Wright.
During their weeklong stay, the group spent their time working in a warehouse acquired by the affiliate. The group cleared out the warehouse, built walls and an office. They also assembled worktables, which allowed the warehouse to become a fabrication plant where walls for Habitat homes can be built and sent out.
Apart from this, a vital role of the group was to help in a total relief. The goal is to have the area prepared if another hurricane were ever to strike. The town of Lucedale hopes to be ready to help the greater Mississippi area if another disaster devastates the area.
First time participant Bill Haug found himself at a loss for words when asked what the trip meant to him. While Haug is the president of SHU’s Habitat for Humanity campus chapter, this was his first time as a participant with the Mississippi delegation.
“People don’t always realize how big this hurricane was. They may have seen what was on the news, but not the rest of the damage. We were about 150 miles away from New Orleans, and it was a lot to take in,” he said.
Both Vidal and Wright agree that going to Mississippi has a slightly different feel than a Habitat spring break trip. ”On the Mississippi trip, we immerse ourselves fully in the community and try to listen to as many stories as we can. It is important to advocate that people are still homeless there, and there is still complete devastation,” Vidal said.
Accompanying the 20 University students was Michael Giarratano, co-director of the 5th year Internship Program in the Isabelle Farrington College of Education, Fr. Jerry Ryle, director of Campus Ministry; Margaret Casey of the Office of Volunteer Programs, Steven Wrinkle, network engineer for IT and Brad Hotchkiss, carpenter and friend of the University.
While the group dedicated themselves to working from January 8-15, they also spent months fundraising before their departure. By sending out donation letters, collaborating with local restaurants and hosting fundraisers on campus, the group raised $11,500 in donations for the trip.
This trip offered participants a unique experience to see an area still in need. While the group went to lend a hand, Vidal explains that they get just as much in return.
“It’s a great learning process. You learn about who you are and who you want to be. There is so much personal growth and achievement.”