By Karina Rajtar
Thanksgiving. It’s a time to reflect on all that we have and how lucky we really are. Nothing will help you realize how much there is to be thankful for like spending Thanksgiving break in Biloxi, Miss., to help rebuild after hurricane Katrina.
Our modest group of five volunteers arrived in the sunny South just in time to change into work clothes and dive right into measuring, insulating, and sheet-rocking. As the week continued, we kept up with similar work, along with some painting and building a wheelchair ramp. We were able to meet the elderly owner of the house we spent most of our time on, and seeing the pure joy in her eyes to simply have walls was incredibly humbling. She has not had a home since Katrina hit, and now she should be able to move back in time for Christmas.
Even two years after the storm, there is a lot to do. Many are still living in the crowded FEMA trailers and newer, still fairly cramped, “Katrina Cottages.” Houses are being rebuilt only as quickly as the volunteers can work, but the progress is surprisingly uplifting for the relatively small number of volunteers.
Sophomore Molly Jewison took the trip for her second time. “It was great to go back to Biloxi again. A lot of progress had been made in that year and it looked a lot cleaner,” said Jewison. If our own experience was any indication, then volunteers are a truly indispensable resource in Biloxi. We walked into a house with no inner walls at all, and at the end of the week walked out of that house, which by then only needed a floor, trim, electricity and plumbing.
After 10 days of working hard, laughing harder, and meeting some amazing people, we left Biloxi excited to know we had helped and thankful for the opportunity to help us better appreciate our safety and security. There were also some feelings of discontent to be leaving when so much more work could be done.
“Volunteering can be emotionally straining on a volunteer, but you just remember that the citizens down there live in those conditions day in and day out. They don’t get to leave after one week and go home,” Jewison said. The trip was a great lesson in real thanksgiving. I hope to go back soon.