Three years after the devastating blow of Hurricane Katrina mangled the communities along the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi city of Biloxi is proof that work still needs to be done. Over Spring Break, 56 Geneseo students and staff journeyed down south to assist in reconstruction projects around the Biloxi area.
Livingston County C.A.R.E.S., a nonprofit organization that has organized several trips to the Biloxi area, again organized this year's trip. Due to a $10,000 grant that Livingston County C.A.R.E.S. received from the state, the price for students was significantly reduced in comparison to previous years.
Despite the excruciating 24-hour bus ride down, which included middle-of-the-night bathroom stops in unknown states and too many McDonald's meals, the work crew from Geneseo was ready for the week that lay ahead. We stayed at Salvation Army's Volunteer Village, a former high-school football stadium that was converted to a house that feeds the many work groups that come in and out. The Village provided a home base for the group as well as an excellent place for pick-up ultimate Frisbee, basketball and board games in the evenings.
Though the projects throughout the week varied, the most large-scale one was that of Popp's Ferry Elementary, a Biloxi public school. While the school building itself was not extremely damaged by the storm, its exterior was in need of improvement. Bushes in the front were overgrown and obscured the school's sign; an outdoor stage area was also neglected and thus never used by students or staff. Many students and staff had homes ruined by the storm, and even at this point, several still lived in formaldehyde-wrought FEMA trailers or "Katrina cottages," small, indestructible houses that were meant to replace the problematic trailers.
The Geneseo group rose above and beyond the challenge, not only landscaping the front of the school, but revamping picnic tables, creating hopscotch games and a multicolored map of the United States on the basketball courts, giving the gymnasium a fresh coat of paint and adding flowers and color to nearly every outdoor area of the school. An unexpected but thoroughly enjoyed party, thrown by the PTA, was the culmination of the week. Geneseo students and staff received Mardi Gras beads from Popp's Ferry students as well as home-cooked southern delicacies such as crawfish and jambalaya. The interaction between our group and that of Popp's Ferry made our labor worthwhile.
Outside of Popp's Ferry, Geneseo students worked on a Salvation Army thrift store and several houses around Biloxi, painting ceilings and fences, braving heights to work on roofs, and putting up drywall. On the bus ride home, the Geneseo group returned with new friends, giant thank-you cards from Popp's Ferry students, fresh sunburns from the beautiful Mississippi weather, and the satisfaction of a job well done.