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JMUís response to Hurricane Katrina
By Hali Chiet ('07)
Instead of spending Thanksgiving with their families, 56 JMU students, professors and staff members traveled to Biloxi, Miss., to aid hurricane victims.
In the days following the catastrophic disaster of Hurricane Katrina, members of the Madison community had one question on their minds: how to help?
Students, professors and staff members were all eager to begin their own fundraisers to aid the victims of the disaster. In addition to contributions by individual students, numerous student clubs, teams and organizations, and university administration, campus relief efforts included those of the Centennial Dukes, the Commonwealth's Combined Virginia Campaign Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, Community Service-Learning, JMU athletics, the JMU Bookstore, the Katrina Relief All Together One Team, the School of Nursing, and the Student Government Association. JMU also waived tuition and housing fees for six students from the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast.
Immediately after news broke about the seriousness of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, the JMU Bookstore began collecting dollar donations at the register. One hundred percent of the money donated was sent directly to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
Cliff Ewert, vice president of Public and Campus Relations of the Follett Higher Education Group, says the company wanted to help the victims immediately. "As soon as Katrina hit New Orleans, we decided to help out in the relief efforts," he said. "Follett is a company that has a strong social conscience, and we feel that it's the right thing to do — to help wherever we can."
JMU men's basketball players, Joe Posey (left) and Chris Clarke were among those assisting with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts during JMU's football game Sept. 3. Photo by Tommy Thompson
Saturday, Sept. 3, marked the season-opening football game of the championship Dukes.
University administration contacted Brad Edmonson, assistant athletic director for marketing, to sponsor a fundraiser at the game. "We were asked to put together a promotion where we tried to get people at the game," he said. "It became a nationwide thing at college football games that weekend."
In order to help with the relief efforts, JMU combined with three local media outlets — Ver Standig Broadcasting, WHSV television and the Harrisonburg “Daily News-Record” — to collect funds.
In conjunction with the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Chapter of the American Red Cross, JMU students and American Red Cross personnel collected donations of more than $5,700 at the event, one hundred percent of which went directly to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
Edmonson said he was glad to help out with the campus-wide relief efforts. "We were very excited to help out with Katrina relief," he said. "Everyday on the news we see how devastating the conditions are down there, and any way that we could help out, we knew that would be important."
Virginia Governor Mark J. Warner encouraged the JMU community to support the victims of Hurricane Katrina by joining in the Commonwealth's Combined Virginia Campaign. In this short-term effort, checks and cash were collected and sent directly to the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.
The drive began immediately after the hurricane hit, and ended on Friday, Sept. 16. JMU students, faculty and staff members had the option of mailing donations to a specified address or donating at one of seven collection sites throughout campus.
In an effort to consolidate the campus' various relief efforts, JMU President Linwood H. Rose established the Katrina Relief All Together One Team. The collaborative effort included one representative from each of the four university divisions — academic affairs, administration and finance, student affairs and university planning, and university advancement — as well as a representative of the Student Government Association. Students, faculty and staff were encouraged to contact their representative and contribute ideas for relief efforts. The team created a Web site, www.jmu.edu/katrina to provide information on the university's efforts.
On Wednesday, Sept. 7, Student Government Association President Wesli Spencer called together a "Meeting of the Minds" to consolidate the various student relief efforts. Leaders from more than 100 student clubs and organizations attended the meeting to brainstorm ideas for both short- and long-term efforts. "You are leading the entire student body — the sky's the limit," Spencer told those in attendance. "We have an opportunity right here, right now, to alleviate some of the stress that is going on down there. Everything we say we're going to do, we're going to follow through with it."
After this initial meeting, Spencer and the various student leaders created core committees and subcommittees to help organize a weeklong "Hope Floats Relief Effort." The goal was to raise one dollar from every JMU student for the American Red Cross by Friday, Sept. 23 — an amount totaling $16,735. According to Spencer, the success of the project would be contingent upon the cooperation of each and every student.
“All we're asking is for students to come out and donate a little bit of time and money," he said. "We are asking everyone to do something that could impact a group of people for many months or years to come. That's the point of life, of why we're here — to help one another, to serve one another — to better our society."
The Hope Floats week kicked off on Monday, Sept. 19 with "Silence Day." An area on the Commons was designated as a "silence for reflection" spot in honor of the Katrina victims. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, a blood drive was held in Transitions. Throughout the week, committee members collected donations on the Commons and actively publicized Friday's main event — the Hope Floats Donation Marathon. The marathon, which took place on the Festival lawn from 4 p.m. to midnight, included a cappella groups, bands, spoken word performances, dance acts, and a speech delivered by Dr. Rose. The night concluded with a candlelight vigil.
According to Spencer, planning and coordinating the event went rather smoothly. "The cooperation between students, faculty and the administration has been superb for this [event]," he said. "It has been one of the best things that I've seen. Everyone has been very willing to put their own agendas aside to make this happen."
The countless hours of planning for Friday's big event paid off. Spencer estimates that between 300 and 400 people attended the eight-hour marathon. Sarah Whitley, residence life; Melanie Bullock and Randi Sponenburg, University Program Board; Kathleen McKay, SGA; Katie Morse, senior class president; Bob Davis, Mark Kline and Debbie Miller, events and conferences; Chris Beach, 80 One Records; Amy Cippiccio, junior class president; Lydia Oppe, SGA chief of staff; and Tyra Davis were commended for their dedication and hard work on the event. Member organizations of the Center for Multicultural and Student Services, the Breeze, and the JMU Breakdance Club, which gave a $4,000 donation, were also cited as contributors to the success of Hope Floats.
"I am honored to have been in the presence of many benevolent individuals on Friday night," Spencer said. "No one's efforts went in vain. It is such behavior that makes our lives more meaningful."
JMU team members assisted with hurricane cleanup, debris removal, light construction and restoration.
JMU's Office of Community Service-Learning organized a Hurricane Katrina relief trip to the Gulf Coast region the week of Thanksgiving. The trip was co-sponsored by the National Relief Network. Instead of spending the holiday with their families, 56 students, professors and staff members traveled to Biloxi, Miss., to help aid in hurricane cleanup and restoration. Housed at a local church school, the team also assisted with debris removal and light construction. The volunteers, who were part of a larger effort of more than 300 people from groups around the country, spent part of Thanksgiving Day serving meals at a shelter. One of the volunteers, photographer Phil DeJong ('05), documented the life-changing trip on his Web site, www.phildejong.com.
On Monday, Sept. 19, one professor and 16 JMU students from the nursing program departed for the Gulf Coast by bus. Donna Trimm, an assistant professor in the nursing department, has lived in Mississippi, and decided to offer students an opportunity to travel to the area and help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Trimm contacted the American Red Cross, and the trip was quickly organized.
JMU nursing students await an assignment after arriving in Biloxi, Miss., to help Hurricane Katrina victims. Photo by nursing major Rachel Pryor ('06).
Trimm and the students arrived in Montgomery, Ala., Monday evening. On Tuesday they were taken to a Red Cross deployment center to fill out paperwork, and attend orientation and training. According to nursing program director Merle Mast, this was "a massive operation with about 100 volunteers going through the center everyday, and some waiting several days for deployment."
The JMU group was deployed to a Red Cross shelter in the Gulfport/Biloxi area. They stayed overnight in a tent, and Trimm reported that the students were looking forward to active involvement with displaced persons.
On Friday, some of the group spent the night at a Navy base — in a huge warehouse filled with 1,000 people. All of the students worked under the direction of registered nurses and all reported that they were doing fine and having terrific learning experiences.
Mast is extremely pleased with the JMU nursing community's willingness to help out. "I am proud, a little envious, and very excited that a group of students and professor Donna Trimm could represent JMU and the nursing profession through this work with the American Red Cross," she said.
In order to update the JMU nursing department about the students' experiences in the disaster area, Trimm and several JMU students sent daily voicemails to Mast, who then e-mailed various nursing department professors to inform them of what was happening in the area.
Fifty students and a number of faculty members initially volunteered for the trip. Not all who had volunteered were able to go — "It seemed wisest to send a group of reasonable size with one faculty member," Dr. Mast said. "Those students face the challenge of getting back on track with classroom courses."
The faculty members and students who were not able to go on the trip did, however, contribute to the effort. The Nursing Student Association put together bags of treats for children for the group to take and also conducted a fundraiser for the victims.
Junior Danny O'Keefe, from Covington, La., was affected by the Katrina disaster. His home and his father's work headquarters were severely damaged by the hurricane. O'Keefe's parents and two younger siblings will be moving to Orlando, Fla., where his father's business headquarters have been relocated. O'Keefe feels fortunate that his family was able to escape safely from the area. "Knowing that my family is all OK helps me cope with the situation," he said. "There are so many people there that just lost everything so I feel fortunate that everyone in my family is alive." As far as the efforts being put forth by the JMU community, Danny says he is truly grateful. "I think it's great that people so far away are willing to help," he said. "Every little bit helps."
Freshman Chris Sisk, who is also from Covington, La., says he was also greatly affected by Hurricane Katrina. Like O'Keefe, Sisk's family was forced to evacuate the area. His brother, who resided in downtown New Orleans, lost his home and contacted Chris via text messaging after having evacuated to Dallas.
Only two days after moving all of his belongings to Loyola University, freshman Andrew Campanelli was forced to evacuate the area. He left New Orleans and was later admitted to JMU. Campanelli, a music industry studies major, says that he has been enjoying his time thus far at JMU. "My professors are nice, my classes are good — challenging but manageable — and the people here are all really friendly," he said. Campanelli also feels thankful for the numerous relief efforts that have benefited those affected by the hurricane. "I feel really grateful to everyone who has done something to help out the displaced students and citizens of the Gulf Coast area," he said. "A lot of schools around the nation have been very helpful and gracious to all the students, but I am thankful to JMU in particular, who admitted people even though they already had a more than full freshmen class."
Although our story tried to cover the many hurricane relief efforts of the Madison community, it is not comprehensive — and the work continues. This spring many JMU students embarked on Alternative Spring Break adventures that focused on meeting the needs of people who are recovering from the ravages of the recent hurricanes. If you have a story to tell, please e-mail your news, notes and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.