Director of Service-Learning
Office of Service-Learning
4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
Mississippi: Spring Break 07
Ten students and a staff member spent Spring Break in Mississippi with Hands On Gulf Coast http://www.handsongulfcoast.org/, a disaster response project in Biloxi that formed after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The students joined a unique residential community of service composed of around 200 other Spring Breakers, AmeriCorps staff (NCCC) http://www.americorps.gov/about/programs/nccc.asp, short and long-term volunteers, and Hands On full-time staff. They lived and ate together in a huge hall behind Beauvoir United Methodist Church in Biloxi. Each day, volunteers checked the job board for their work assignments related to housing, child care, and the environment. Each day one group was assigned to cook, clean, and do other chores for the Hands On community.
Students gutted houses, put up siding, painted, caulked, cleared refuse from empty lots, combed the seashore for hurricane-related debris, pulled bushes and vines from damaged National Park fences, widened a community walking trail, served food at the Salvation Army tent to volunteers from across Biloxi, and posted signs on a pristine barrier island to protect nesting seabird habitats.
After work, the Hands On participants hung out, read, danced, played Ultimate Frisbee against Habitat for Humanity volunteers, and performed in the weekly “No-Talent Talent Show.” One night the Spring Breakers heard a special presentation about the ongoing political, economic, and social challenges involved in the post-Katrina recovery efforts in Mississippi.
Eckerd students were inspired by the dedication of the Hands On and AmeriCorps staff members who were, for the most part, around the same ages as the Spring Breakers. Also, they were able to observe first hand the resilience of the Mississippi coastal residents and better understand the ongoing challenges they face in the aftermath of the hurricane that landed on the Gulf Coast 17 months before.