About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 27, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 27
Student Volunteers Head to Gulf Region

Traveling on a Blue Jays bus, a group representing the Bunting-Meyerhoff Center leaves for the Baltimore airport.

Three Homewood groups use spring break to help Katrina victims

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Dozens of Johns Hopkins students flew south for spring break 2006, but the sun and fun were not necessarily on the agenda. Call it a working vacation.

Members of three different groups, they traveled last week to the Gulf region to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina, in particular, residents in New Orleans and Moss Point, Miss.

Fifteen Homewood undergraduates representing the Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith and Community Service Center went to the Gulf Coast on an "interfaith rebuilding trip." The group believes that Katrina not only caused tremendous suffering but also exposed dividing lines of class, race, geography and wealth. Their aim, they said, was to reach across some of those barriers to display a model of American religious pluralism that reflects shared commitment.

The students and four staff members were in the poor and devastated area of Moss Point, where they hung drywall, painted, cleaned up yards, and installed insulation and flooring in homes.

Reached there by phone, Tursina Abdul-Rashid, a senior environmental engineering major, described the area as generally unkempt with lots of undergrowth, wind and rain damage "and broken windows everywhere." Abdul-Rashid said the full-day workloads, beginning each day at 7 a.m., have been strenuous but extremely rewarding.

"People here are really amazing. The [residents] have been so positive, not angry or sad, just working hard," she said. "It's been an amazing experience so far. I'm so glad I came here."

The participants represent a number of faith traditions and cultural backgrounds. JHU Campus Ministries, including all its participating religious and spiritual organizations, along with other campus partners, funded the trip. Assistant Chaplain Kathy Schnurr and Rabbi Joseph Menashe led the group, who were joined by Lt. Col. Kenneth Romaine and Capt. Amy Wallace from the JHU ROTC Blue Jay Battalion.

The group stayed at Dantzler Memorial United Methodist Church with other relief groups.

In Moss Point, Miss., the Johns Hopkins students helped rebuild hurricane-devastated homes by hanging drywall, painting, and installing insulation and flooring.

Graduate students from the Institute for Policy Studies and their friends and family members lived at Camp Premier in New Orleans, the St. Bernard Parish emergency tent city, and worked full time to remove debris and start rebuilding in a community where most residential and commercial structures suffered structural damage. The major volunteer effort to rebuild — a collaborative project among the parish government, FEMA and New Orleans Habitat for Humanity — has only just begun.

The group planned to contribute 400 hours of labor and more than $1,000 in supplies and expenses.

Another five undergraduates headed to New Orleans to work with the Common Ground Collective. The group set out to help homeowners gut five to six houses that can either be completely rebuilt or demolished, and to help clear out warehouses for use as a staging area for 5,000 volunteers this summer.

Tom McBride, a senior public health studies major and the group's coordinator, said the scene down there looked like the storm happened just yesterday.

"Homes were completely abandoned," he said. "Everything is still waterlogged, furniture scatted everywhere."

McBride said that most of the homes he saw will need to be disinfected and rebuilt. Those beyond repair will be bulldozed to make way for new construction.

Samantha Simpson, a senior biology major whose family has roots in Louisiana, said it has been an eye-opening experience for her.

"You hear people talk about what it's like down here, but it's a different world when you see it in person," she said. "I'm glad that I can be here to contribute. It really wasn't much of a decision [to come here]. This is something that needs to be done."

The Common Ground Collective's mission is to provide short-term relief for victims of hurricane disasters in the Gulf Coast region and long-term support in rebuilding the communities affected in the New Orleans area.

Simpson said she learned of the Common Ground Collective from a television commercial she saw in early February. She immediately ditched her plans to head to a tropical island for spring break.
Amy Lunday contributed to this article.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |