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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Students celebrate spring break by serving others

    While some students will spend spring break in Rocky Point, others are choosing to devote their time this year to helping hurricane victims of the Gulf Coast rebuild their homes – and their lives.

    Cecilia Romero, a communication sophomore, got an early start on her spring break this week by participating in the United Way of America’s i naugural Alternative Spring Break in Louisiana.

    Romero said she decided to get involved after she saw a special on MTV promoting ASB. Though she has volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, she has never before done anything like ASB.

    On Saturday, Romero flew to Houston and then drove with other corps participants to Louisiana.

    Volunteers took a tour of the area affected by Hurricane Rita, Romero said, specifically visiting Cameron, La., which is about 200 miles from New Orleans.

    “”It looks dead,”” Romero said. “”There’s an eerie, ashy look. Everything was green but the salt water killed the marsh and everything is gray.””

    One of the stops included going to a high school.

    “”It was deserted,”” Romero said. “”Now all the classes are held in portables. There is a football field, but they haven’t played a game since the hurricane.””

    If family members could find their house, now miles away from where it once stood, they would spray-paint their address on it so they could claim their insurance benefits, Romero said.

    Other families are living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but after 18 months, they are required to start paying rent or they have to leave, Romero said. The problem is that no one has a job anymore, and even if they do, there are no more day-care centers because they don’t exist, she said.

    “”It’s a never-ending cycle,”” Romero said. “”It’s like a domino effect – everything’s affected.””

    Romero and her team are working to rebuild the house of a single mother and her two children.

    “”At first it didn’t look like much, but then I walked into the kitchen and half the roof was missing,”” Romero said.

    Replacing the windows in the children’s rooms and repainting them are some of the things the team is working on, and a new front door was installed on Monday, Romero said.

    The volunteers stay in a housing center in a building formerly used as a middle school, Romero said. There are about 50 bunk beds in one room.

    Romero said when she told most people she was going to Louisiana for spring break, they told her she would have a great time. But what people don’t realize is that Hurricane Rita hit and caused damage in other places besides New Orleans, she said.

    “”People always talk about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, but people in Lake Charles are like, ‘What about us?'”” Romero said. “”Once people saw Rita coming, they evacuated pretty quickly, so although there were no casualties, it still caused a lot of damage.””

    After working all day, each group meets to discuss its highs and lows and reflect on the day. Then at dinner, each group reports to the rest of the volunteers how it is doing.

    More than 300 participants are part of the United Way of America’s Storm Corps and commit to help repair homes and replace roofs in Lake Charles, La., according to a press release. MTV will film volunteers in action and produce a documentary called “”The Amazing Break,”” scheduled to air the weekend of March 23.

    The program this week and the last week of March are sponsored by United Way of Southwest Louisiana, and will not be part of the MTV documentary.

    Sheila Consaul, director of media relations for United Way of America, said the organization hopes to expand ASB and make it a national effort to involve young people in community service and helping out in their own communities.

    Other groups have also organized alternative break opportunities for students.

    The Hillel Center on campus is sending students to New Orleans as part of Hillel’s Gulf Coast Alternative Break.

    Jake Rouse, the Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow at UA and a pre-business sophomore, is going to New Orleans with 12 students to to help rebuild.

    “”I’m beyond thrilled that I get to travel and hang out with students,”” Rouse said. “”It will be a nice diversion working with students from all over the country.””

    Twelve students were selected because a generous donation from a member of the community allowed their travel expenses to be covered, Rouse said.

    Additionally, the Lutheran Disaster Response, located in Chicago, has coordinated an alternative break for students called “”What a Relief!”” said Brendan McAdams, reservations coordinator for LDR.

    This week, there are seven different college groups participating and throughout the month, a total of 15 groups will be helping in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, McAdams said.

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