BVU students bound for Mississippi to help reclaim neighborhoods
Toothpaste, toilet paper, work boots, and work gloves - those items and much more are packed in vans with Buena Vista University students headed for Mississippi.
With Hurricane Katrina and Rita having rocked the gulf coast and causing millions of dollars in property damage, there is still much work to be done.
A group of BVU students decided to pitch in with the relief effort. Instead of traveling to more glamorous locations such as New York or Phoenix for interim opportunities, they're heading south to muddy Gulfport, Miss. for class credit.
"It's a good opportunity to perform community service through BVU," said Jennifer McKasson, a first-year student at BVU.
The students' excitement was palpable Thursday as they entered the final stages of preparation for the trip south. They'll be in Gulfport for ten days of back-breaking work, but this group of concerned students is looking forward to the experience.
"It's so hard to know what to expect, and a lot of the pictures we have seen are outdated," said BV sophomore Jessica Pfeiffer. "We expect a lot of things to be better, but there are still a lot of unknowns for us."
According to BV media studies professor Bruce Ellingson, the idea for the trip came from the school's faculty and staff. BVU had helped raise funds after the disaster, and welcomed any students who wished to transfer from impacted campus to receive studies through BVU's online program, but they felt more needed to be done for the hurricane's victims.
"I was not signed up to teach a course at the time so I agreed to help and contacted Mark Kirkholm and Ken Meissner to plan out the trip," Ellingson said.
Meissner, chaplin of BVU, contacted a Presbyterian organization for help setting up the trip.
The students started training on Tuesday, Jan. 3 for the trip. They met with Bob Bartling of The Red Cross Katrina Disaster Relief effort and former Sioux City Journal Photographer Ed Porter. Both clued the students in on what they could expect.
Storm Lake Police Chief Mark Prosser also talked to the students about Storm Lake's plans in case of an emergency here.
Julie Scadden, an Iowa Paramedic Specialist who helped in Florida after Hurricane Wilma, presented to students some issues they may face on the Gulf Coast.
On the third day of training and preparation, students presented research on the different aspects of life on the gulf coast.
Topics covered ranged from religion and history of the area to the current state of the politics in the area. Leon Williams, Director of Intercultural Programs at BVU, lectured the group on the challenges they might face dealing with racial and cultural issues.
A two-day van ride will take them to the Orange Grove Presbyterian Church just outside of Gulfport. The students will stay at a camp provided by the Presbyterian Disaster Relief Association.
The camp holds 120 people and will have laundry, shower, and cooking facilities. Students will also help with cooking and laundry for camp members.
The BVU students will spend ten days working in small teams, going to different sites and helping out different home owners.
Some students have wondered what they will encounter on the trip.
"I expect to see a lot of water damage and debris laying around," junior Rob Lembke said. He also heard that there will be spiders around the area he will be working at and he was not too wild about running into them.
Mark Kirkholm, Director of Campus Security at BVU, will travel with the students. He's also not sure what to expect.
"I expect that we will see something beyond comprehension," Kirkholm said. "It will be something that no video or photo can show us."
BV students and faculty hope to pull something from their trip that will impact their lives.
"I hope I will learn to appreciate my life more," said Amy Lorenzen, first-year BVU student.
Lembke also had some ideas on how the trip will help his grow as a person.
"I hope to reflect on who am and be grateful that I live in Iowa." he said.