In Biloxi, Miss. Livingston CARES aids reconstruction efforts post-Hurricane Katrina

Twenty-four students, three Residence Directors and one faculty member spent their spring break volunteering in Biloxi, Miss. on a service trip sponsored by Livingston County CARES. The trip – the 24th of its kind – gave students a chance to join the ongoing effort to rebuild the area after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

According to Livingston CARES President and Dean of Leadership and Services, Tom Matthews, after its creation in 2005, Livingston CARES made a commitment to send students to Biloxi multiple times per year for 10 consecutive years to help with reconstruction efforts.

After this year, the organization will have sent over 675 volunteers to Biloxi. Matthews said that he hopes the trips “will lead [students] to become lifelong volunteers.”

“I haven’t talked to a [trip attendee] yet who hasn’t told me that they intend to [volunteer] for the rest of their life,” Matthews said. On this particular trip, the student volunteers worked on different projects such as painting houses, putting up siding and tiling floors.

Junior Lizzy Johnson, a member of the Livingston CARES board of directors and the student coordinator for the trip, helped students to make the most of their experience by facilitating daily group reflections and providing participants with a stronger understanding of the hurricane.

“I think a lot of people go on the trips and don’t have a lot of context, so that was one thing we tried to work on this year,” Johnson said. “At the orientation meetings we showed video clips about the storm and we visited the Hurricane Katrina Memorial [while in Biloxi].” Senior Kevin Felter, a Livingston CARES board member and three-time Biloxi volunteer, said that the trips helped him to see “the goodness of people.”

“It takes a certain kind of person to willingly give up their spring break and to live in crappy jeans and get covered in paint and mud all week – and to have fun doing it,” Felter said.

The trip to Biloxi introduced a new kind of wisdom to some volunteers. “It’s very humbling to see how much there still is to do,” sophomore Katy Boland said. “It can get a little overwhelming at times. It’s incredible to think how much I’ve been given in my life and how easily that could not be the case.”

After spending the majority of her spring break tiling the floors of one house, junior Laura Vitto said she learned the impact that a small act of service can have on an individual life. “It started out as just a house, and by the end of the week it looked like a home,” she said.

The next Livingston CARES trip to Biloxi is already full and scheduled to leave in May.