James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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Hurricane Relief Work Changes Lives

January 2, 2008
By: Amanda Rivera

PHOTO: Stephany on relief trip When Hurrican Katrina ravaged the gulf, Junior Social Work and Psychology major Stephany Herzog knew that she had to return and help out in this time of greatest need.  Having visited Mississippi just months earlier to see a friend, Stephany had been touched by the area.  Signing up for JMU’s first hurricane relief trip over Thanksgiving break in 2005, she also saw this experience as an opportunity to strengthen her leadership skills, since she had been accepted as an Alternative Spring Break leader for the following spring.  However, coming back from the trip, Stephany knew that she had found what she refers to as her “niche.”  Coming in to JMU as a Psychology and Pre-dentistry major, Stephany called her father to reveal her life-changing news.   “I know I could be a dentist, but I don’t want to be a dentist…That’s [hurricane relief] my passion.  I found it.  I have no doubts. I know what I want to do.  Finally, this fits,” Stephany says relaying her phone conversation two years ago.

PHOTO: Stephany with childrenGetting a jumpstart, Stephany has attended every other Thanksgiving hurricane relief trip thereafter, as well as on her own in the summer, making this excursion her fifth one to date.  Traveling to some of the most devastated cities, including Biloxi, the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, this JMU student has a lot of experience to share.  As a small group leader for this year’s Thanksgiving Hurricane Relief Trip sponsored by the College of Education, she says, “I just really like bringing other people down there, especially as a leader, because you get to see them experience something that you’re so passionate about and so it was amazing.”  Compiling a group of newcomers, Stephany was quick to develop a bond with each individual member, addressing any needs or concerns they expressed.  However, no amount of planning could have prepared her group for what they would encounter.  “You can look at photographs all day…You think that you understand and you feel that you’re emotional about it, but then you get down there and it’s so much more than just one house that you’re looking at…you’re seeing everything.  You’re driving through it, you’re seeing, you’re smelling, you’re feeling, you’re interacting with people that have honestly gone through it,” she says.

PHOTO: Child waiting on porchTuesday of Thanksgiving week, the group begun their trip in the Musician’s Village, located in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana.  Amidst the jazz music and clanging of drums along the street, Habitat for Humanity acclimated the group to the area.  Of the 105 JMU students that attended, some worked on roofing, others worked on siding, all taking part in tasks that would enable the rebuilding of “gutted” houses.  Stephany’s group was able to be present for a house dedication ceremony; a moment that she admits brought them all to tears.  “They invited us into the house to see how it looks after it’s done, so we could see what we’ve been working on, what it turns out to be and who we actually affect by doing what we’re doing…Just to see a family can finally be together in a community that they know, is really powerful to see that,” she says.  While building represented an important goal for the participants involved, interactions with the residents was a mainstay of the trip.  Stephany says, “More than anything, the most important role that they wanted us to do was to take the time to sit down and listen to people’s stories…It puts it into a perspective…I might be doing something as easy as decorating a center, but to them, that is something so much more than it is for us.”

PHOTO: Stephany with other relief workersSocializing reached its peak on Thanksgiving at the St. Bernard Community Center.  Stephany says, “The reason I’ve gone down every Thanksgiving is I can’t think of a better way to spend my Thanksgiving than giving myself…Every person that I meet down there, it’s an instant connection.”  Despite the tragedies they’ve faced, this JMU student attests that this area holds some of the most spirited people she has ever met in her life.  Looking around though, it would be difficult to fathom that this kind of hopefulness exists.  “A guy I talked to this summer, it was him, his wife and seven kids in one trailer.  I can’t even imagine that because I’ve walked in them and I think I would be claustrophobic with just two people in there,” she says.  Although it’s been two years since the hurricane hit, Stephany recalls walking down the street in the summer and seeing only one in every fifth house gutted, while four out of five remained untouched.  “You would hope that it recovers faster and I go very often. I see the difference, but it has to be hard for the people that are gone, because they’re ready to come home and two years is a long time to wait to come home,” she says.

PHOTO: Stephany with relief workerComing home from Louisiana, Stephany is already planning for her next trip to Louisiana this summer.  “Hurricane Relief changed my major and pretty much changed my life,” she says.  After graduation, Stephany wants to obtain her Masters in Social Work and possibly work for Teach for America in New Orleans.  However, this hurricane relief activist does hope to return to where it all started, working as a professor at a university.  “To be able to continue that and still be a professor and to inspire kids to get involved with community service learning, is really important because any one of these that I’ve ever went on has been life-changing,” Stephany says.