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   from the issue of January 12, 2006

  93 from UNL aid hurricane cleanup effort

Big Red Relief Project


When Waveland, Miss., resident Lawrence Grinder saw two van loads of UNL students and staff pull up to his mangled acreage last week he was pleased, but never dreamed that at the end of the day, the equivalent of months of back-breaking cleanup would be accomplished.

STAFF ASSISTANCE - Coni Cosgrove, a University Health Center employee, finds a delicate doll miraculously unharmed and covered in hurricane debris...
 STAFF ASSISTANCE - Coni Cosgrove, a University Health Center employee, finds a delicate doll miraculously unharmed and covered in hurricane debris. One of the nearby homeowners collected dolls and antiques, which were found strewn across acres of woodland in Waveland, Miss. Photo by Kelly Bartling/University Communications.

"I'm seeing a miracle," Grinder remarked Jan. 4 while two dozen students hauled hurricane debris. "I didn't believe it could clean up as fast as it did, the kids are working hard and I'm amazed at how fast they've cleaned it up."

Grinder was one of a dozen Waveland-area residents who after months of working alone picking up hurricane debris, downed trees, personal belongings and now waste from their property, were pleased to get help from the 93 UNL students, staff and faculty who descended on Waveland Jan. 2-6 for a service-learning hurricane relief trip.

Since the historic hurricane destroyed Gulf Coast homes and entire communities around Aug. 29, residents said little help has been seen, few volunteers have shown up, and many locals are disillusioned, depressed and frustrated about their life-altering experience.

Grinder was one of many residents who sat and talked over work breaks about their experiences during and after the hurricane: grateful for their lives, intent on rebuilding, but frustrated over lack of progress.

Grinder and his wife escaped to higher ground before Hurricane Katrina came ashore, he told the students.

At over a mile inland, the family had never evacuated during previous hurricanes. They fled, leaving their pets, and when they returned days later, their home was gone. And their son's home and neighbors' homes were destroyed and littered all over their 40-acre woodland.

"We got about 25-foot tidal surge, that destroyed the houses down to a slab; most of our pine trees broke off, personal belongings ruined, and we're down to zero again," Grinder said. "We'll do it. We'll rebuild it from the ground up. Today, the students are picking up things it's taken me and my son and friends months to do. If it weren't for groups like this, this part of the country would stay devastated for many, many months. Your group is doing miracles for Waveland."

STUDENT AID - Jinohn Temple and Leah Daharsh, both students from Lincoln, pick up hurricane debris at a Waveland resident's homestead...
STUDENT AID - Jinohn Temple and Leah Daharsh, both students from Lincoln, pick up hurricane debris at a Waveland resident's homestead. Photo by Kelly Bartling/University Communications.


Helping at Grinder's homestead was one of many projects tackled by the UNL teams, which also organized and managed supplies at a local distribution center, cleaned, painted and set up the local children and women's center, rebuilt a Waveland church, and cleaned brush, branches, trees and debris from as many as a dozen residents' property and homes.

The highlight for most students and staff was the personal connection made with people like Grinder, who talked about their narrow escapes with the hurricane, their emotions afterward, and how they've coped with cleaning up and rebuilding their homes and communities.

Linda Major, director of Student Involvement, made the 20-hour drive to Waveland on the two-bus caravan and participated in her first disaster service-leaning project. She said that human connection was the best part of the experience.

"For me, it was about hearing people's stories and the resiliency of the human spirit and the gratitude for what they have now, not about what they lost," she said. "It's amazing."

Students talked about the satisfying feeling of service and the pride in bringing a bit of joy to people, combined with the ability to see first-hand and pitch in to help get people's lives back to normal.

"I just really wanted to come down here and help the people; I heard a lot about the hurricanes but didn't know first-hand what it was like. I wanted to let them know we care even though we're so far away," student Justin Pratt said. "It's good to go talk to the people and see they're kind of getting their lives back together even though it's a slow process and it's sad they don't have the support they need to get back on their feet."

"I didn't quite know what to expect but it definitely looked worse than what I've imagined," said April Duncza, a student from Cook. "Whatever you've seen on TV, unless you come down here you'll never believe what it looks like. I'm so proud of everyone and how much we got done."

"I learned that your life can change in just a second and not to take anything for granted, and that it's OK to rely on other people for help," said Kaitlin Peterson, from Hays, Kan.

The UNL troupe arrived at Waveland late Jan. 2 after spending several hours at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. After working Jan. 3-6 they spent the afternoon Jan. 6 touring the French Quarter in New Orleans, which they found pretty near normal after being hit during the August and September hurricanes. Much of the area surrounding the French Quarter was similar to the hundreds of square miles the group saw in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Despite the long bus ride, the primitive sleeping quarters in Waveland, the hard work and lots of bug bites and some sunburn, the group didn't encounter injuries or illnesses and most were buoyed by their week of service. Many were enthusiastically looking forward to doing it again.

Waveland, Miss.

• Located on the Gulf Coast, 60 miles northeast of New Orleans.

• Population: 6,737

• Among the hardest hit areas along the coast. Storm surge estimated as high as 34 feet at nearby Bay St. Louis.

• Tourist location that includes Bucanneer State Park and Water Park; tours of bayous, rivers and bays; beachfront paths; and fishing.



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