Spring break trips help Katrina victims

Student groups are going to Mississippi and Louisiana to “mud out” damaged houses.

Emma Carew

This spring break, the most popular destinations for getaways lie far south of chilly, wet Minnesota.

Students from the Rock student group, Hillel and Campus Outreach will head south, but not to lie on the beach or play in the sand.

The students are taking part in alternative spring break trips to contribute to Hurricane Katrina relief in Mississippi and Louisiana. They will rebuild roofs and clear houses that were destroyed in September.

Some students are going as part of a larger initiative, including eight students from Hillel.

Benjie Davis, Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow at Hillel, said Hillel centers nationwide sent volunteers south during winter break, and next week the University students will meet with 150 other students and volunteers in Biloxi, Miss.

The Hillel students will receive two hours of basic carpentry training when they reach Mississippi on Sunday, Davis said, and then they will build roofs for the rest of the week.

“They said the first roof we do is going to take us probably 2 1/2 days,” he said, “but by the end of the week, we’ll be doing a roof in a day.”

Linguistics senior Victor Rogachevsky, one of the students traveling with Davis, said he learned about the spring break trip from posters at Hillel.

At the pre-trip information session last week, Rogachevsky said he learned about the area they are going to work in.

“The people we are going to be working with are so far south and somewhat removed,” he said. “They know little about Jews and Judaism in general.”

Though more than six months have passed since the storms hit, many areas in Mississippi and Louisiana remain devastated.

“We’re helping the people that for one reason or another can’t afford it,” Davis said. “I saw pictures recently; they’re really small homes, no basement, no second story, and right now most of them have tarps over their roofs.”

Roughing it

While some University students are heading home to sleep in their own beds over break, students who choose a service-based trip have chosen to rough it.

The students will wake up at 6 a.m. to start working, before the temperatures reach the mid-80s, said public relations junior Nick Stromwall, who will travel with Campus Outreach.

They will stay in churches and tents and eat whatever is offered to them.

“We’re not expecting it to be some luxury vacation,” individualized studies sophomore Rachel Shubatt of the Rock student group said. “But that’s not what it’s about.”

Some students said they thought they wanted to make a difference in a situation of mass desolation.

The opportunity to go somewhere that needs a lot of help and “jump into the action” doesn’t usually come up, said Shubatt, who is going on her first mission trip.

The Rock students, a group affiliated with the Rock church, are going to Slidell, La., to “mud out” houses, she said.

“You go into a house and basically tear down and take out anything that isn’t salvageable,” Shubatt said.

Students from Campus Outreach will also be “mudding out” houses in Chalmette, La., a New Orleans suburb, trip coordinator Andrew Knight said.

Campus Outreach has spent time in the past few weeks preparing its students for both the physical and emotional tolls of the trip, Knight said.

“I think they are not going to realize what they are seeing (at first),” he said. “It looks like a war zone.”


Stromwall said he has been going to the University’s recreation center more frequently, lifting weights and playing racquetball to prepare for the physical demands of the labor.

“I’m looking forward to realizing how good we have it here,” he said. “We have so much stuff that people take for granted.”

In addition to physically preparing for the trip, the students are preparing to face large amounts of poverty and devastation.

Hebrew and religious studies senior William Hines, who is with the Rock students, said he has prayed a lot to prepare his mind for the trip.

“The situation (in Mississippi and Louisiana) changes day to day,” he said. “We just have to be prepared to be thrown in any direction.”

Hines said he hopes to spend as little time as possible transitioning to the environment so he can focus on the work.

“We’re going to be miserable, tired and dirty,” he said, “(but I) just enjoy giving myself to a cause greater than myself.”

The students also said they hoped their trips would establish new friendships and good conversation.

“It’s just going to be really uniting for all the people going down there,” Shubatt said.

The drive to Slidell is 25 hours, she said, and “that’ll be a really intimate experience.”

Davis said students who gave up their spring breaks and “jumped at the chance to go down and help” show character.

“This is one of their spring breaks,” he said, “and it says a lot about these guys that they’re giving up that opportunity to give someone else a home.”