Monday, June 12, 2006

The Total Biloxi Experience

Over the past 5 days our small group from South Dakota has been in Biloxi, Mississippi helping relief work from Hurricane Katrina. It has been quite the experience too. In our short stay we have been working hard removing mold, walking dogs at the Humane Society, and lending a hand at the local Boys and Girls Club. In each experience we have come to a greater understanding of the need of volunteers in the town of Biloxi.

I found out about this trip through the University of South Dakota in which I attend. Our department in which I major sent out an email explaining the trip. We were connected to an Americorps Alumni which helped set up the trip. I was really excited about the trip and ready to get started. When asked why I wanted to do this I simply had no response. I still don't know my motivation other than to help people which in some cases that meant helping people whom I'll never meet. I count it a blessing regardless.
It has been our pleasure to work with Hands On and Americorps which have provided excellence leadership for our volunteer project. The operation wouldn't run as smoothly as it does without them. I greatly appreciate the time I have had down here and I am personally grateful for the opportunity that I had.

The first three days down here we removed mold from low-income family housing. We were required to wear Tyvek suits that kept the mold off of us. We also wore eye protection, gloves and respirators. It was extremely hot in all of our gear but we made sure to drink a lot of water. The first step in the mold removal was scrapping the mold off all wood surfaces, which was up the the ceiling of the first floor due to the water levels that arose in the area. Next we let the house sit for 30 minutes before vaccuming the mold spores off all horizontal surfaces. The last step was the chemical wipe down that killed any chance of mold remaining. It was definately the most hard and intense work I've ever done in my entire life. It made it worth it to know that we were helping people return to the lives they once had. The housing development was built and finished a few months before the Hurricane hit and it is still in desperate need of volunteers. It is hard work but so rewarding in the end. We are very thankful for the kind volunteers from a local church group that brought us refreshments, chips, and cookies to cool us off and give us a break from the strenuous work.

Our fourth day we spent at the Humane Society. We helped clean up different areas and walk dogs. It is still overpopulated and the animals are in need of some kind people to adopt them. It was definately a nice break from the mold removal.

The last day we spent at the local Boys and Girls Club where four elementry schools were brought together for a summer program. There seemed to be well over 200 kids there. We were told that two of the new elementry schools were completely destroyed in the hurricane. Also one teacher said that 20 perecent of the students in the classrooms were never brought back. Many relocated after the hurricane. It was fun playing with the kids and they greatly enjoyed the attention of each of the volunteers.

When I told people about my plans to take part in this volunteer project in Biloxi, many seemed confused. They were under the impression that all the work of rebuilding had been taken care of. I found it to be quite the opposite. It's not always our ignorance to blame. I hate when news programs cover the damage of the storm and then soon forget people are still in need. I really didn't know what to expect but there was a great need and there still is. It's not too late and I doubt that there will be a point such as that any time soon. I encourage anyone who wants to make a difference in the Gulf Coast to consider going to Biloxi to help out. There are so many touching stories of those who made a difference. I am very lucky to have been down here this week and experience all Biloxi has to offer.

South Dakota

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