Nation and World

A promise is a promise


by Jan Gillis ('07)

 
image: /_images/news/2015/katrina-rebuild-1087.jpg

SUMMARY: A decade after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, JMU students, alumni, faculty and staff are still honoring a commitment to help the region recover.


From Winter 2016 Madison.

Commitments can be hard to keep.

So it is remarkable that a decade after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, JMU students, alumni, faculty and staff are still honoring a commitment to help the region recover. Back in August 2005, members of the JMU community immediately knew they wanted to help with Katrina relief. The first JMU trip to the area during Thanksgiving week 2005 made one thing brutally apparent: recovery would not be overnight.

That busload of JMU volunteers traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi. Lauren Caskey (’08) remembers: “The bus driver had a heck of a time navigating through streets full of debris — downed trees, boats that had floated away, entire houses that were pushed off their foundations — in almost complete darkness. The streetlights were out, and the only power was coming from generators. This was three months after the storm, and Biloxi looked like a ghost town.”

“The projection at the time was that it would take a decade to rebuild the area,” says Misty Newman, assistant director of JMU’s Department of Community Service-Learning. The JMU Alternative Break Program made a commitment to this effort, initiating an annual May Break dedicated solely to rebuilding in the Gulf Coast region.

‘The New Orleans trips reflect the culture of learning and development at JMU... and commitment to community.’— Dan Smolkin (’11) Alternative Breaks 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2015

Photo from JMU Alternative Thanksgiving Break in New Orleans

“This coming May will be our 10th year,” says Newman, “but we also wanted to commemorate our first trip a decade ago in November by going to New Orleans at Thanksgiving.”

“Ten years later, I have to admit I’m somewhat surprised that current JMU students are interested in rebuilding New Orleans,” says Caskey. “After all, most of them were in elementary school when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.”

Despite the passing of the years, the motivation to make a difference remains strong throughout the Madison community. And, as highlighted during Katrina Awareness Week hosted by CS-L in September, there is a continued need for assistance.

“In New Orleans alone there are approximately 30,000 homes that have not been re-entered since Katrina,” says Newman.

Photo from JMU Alternative Thanksgiving Break in New Orleans

Alumni of previous Alternative Breaks, including previous trips to New Orleans, participated in the Thanksgiving Break, and the addition made for an enriched experience for all participants.

‘I’m proud to be an alumna of a university that lives up to its mission statement every day.’ — Lauren Caskey (’08) Alternative Breaks 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2015

“All of the JMU students I met were thoughtful, open-minded and truly engaged in service-learning. They discussed poverty, education, the environment and other Katrina-related issues with passion, curiosity and respect,” says Caskey.

New Orleans native Dan Smolkin (’11) participated in and led trips in 2008, 2009 and 2010. “As an alumni returning with current undergrads to my hometown for a week of service, I was reminded of the truly wonderful spirit of community and giving at JMU. Ten years since the storm, this trip shows the commitment runs strong.”

Published: Friday, November 20, 2015

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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