SHU Plans Return to Mississippi for Post-Katrina Rebuild

News Story: January 1, 2010
Katrina, the natural disaster that brought devastation to the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans in August 2005, created a situation that will take years and years of effort to make right. Since the fact-finding trip of December 2005, concerned people from Sacred Heart University have been among those seeking to lend a hand.

On January 9, 2010, a group of twenty-five sets out for Katrina-torn Mississippi, the sixth delegation from SHU to go there. They will join the local Habitat affiliate and, over the course of a week, volunteer their help in the ongoing efforts to rebuild. Their return is scheduled for January 16th.

The SHU delegation will be staying at Camp Victor Ministries in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  This site is one of two that were set up through Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the Salvation Army specifically to help house large groups of volunteers who come to the area to help with rebuilding efforts. 

Twenty-one students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, will be accompanied by Jane Carlin, Instructor, English; Michael Giarratano, Assistant Professor, Education Department; Brad Hotchkiss, a friend of the University; and Margaret Casey, Mission Coordinator, Office of Mission and Catholic Identity.

Kelly Leather and Monica Leisner, SHU students who had previously traveled to sites affected by this natural disaster, spearheaded the effort to make this year’s trip happen. When asked why she wanted to go, Kelly explained, “Well, that was rather simple, people need help, and I had an opportunity to help them. After I watched a documentary in my Housing in Homelessness in America course, I was determined to make a trip happen.”

Fundraising, a critically important part of the preparation, started immediately to help pay for the week in Mississippi.  Students pay for their airfare but all other expenses--room and board at Camp Victor, van rental in Mississippi as well as gas, food and other expenses--are paid for with fundraising.

After a collection at the inaugural student Mass in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, other generous donations, including local Knights of Columbus Councils, support from the administration, and prayers from the university community, plans for the 2010 trip slowly but surely became a reality.

Margaret Casey explained the kind of tasks that will occupy the delegation in Mississippi: “We will be taking part in new construction with Habitat.  This may be starting from the foundation and doing the framing for a home to working on interiors putting up sheetrock, flooring, etc. or, as in previous visits, shingling roofs.  We won’t know specifics until we get there.” Kelly Leather added, “We will be meeting with local residents to hear their stories, building homes for four of the days, going to a local school, and participating in other service activities for the week.”

The delegates will return to campus on Friday, January 8th, to prepare for the next day’s departure.  These immediate preparations will include meeting as a group to discuss plans for the week, talk about the destination and where they will stay once they’ve arrived, and most importantly get to know everyone a little better.  Then the group will see “Pushing Back the Wave,” a video chronicling the first two delegations to Mississippi back in 2006; it was put together by Steven Wrinkle, a student who went on the first trips, along with Greg Golda, Clinical Instructor for the Media Studies and Digital Culture Department. The group will attend Mass together, have dinner, and get to bed early.  Departure on Saturday morning is at 2:00 a.m. for a flight leaving at 6:00 a.m.  

Speaking to those gathered in the newly dedicated Chapel of the Holy Spirit in September, Monica Leisner pointed to what motivates the members of this year’s delegation, “Just a month ago I walked past this very chapel and saw the corporal works of mercy written on the side of its walls. I stopped and looked at the words and immediately called Kelly and told her about this image and attempted in some small way to convey its powerful message. It is not until you see these words in person that you experience their inspiring effect. As Dr. Cernera said at the Dedication Mass, these words are not simply thoughts to reflect upon – they are an invitation; they are a call to action. They serve as an invitation to each of us to see beyond ourselves – to serve the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and the one that we hold closest to our hearts, shelter the homeless.”