Students give Hurricane Katrina victims a “break”

Students give Hurricane Katrina victims a “break”

They prayed in the morning and worked tirelessly, exercising their carpentry skills until nightfall. Then they gathered for evening mass in a makeshift tent.

Volunteers of Hope, sponsored by the Northeastern Catholic Center, organized a volunteer trip to the Gulf coast in Mississippi for the second year, continuing their Hurricane Katrina relief project. Both times they worked through recovery at St. Claire, a church that channels groups from around the country to help with relief work.

The theme of the week was “Being the Body of Christ.”

“They have a big sign out front that says ‘Katrina was big, but God is bigger,'” said Brita Ullrich, a sophomore philosophy major and organizer of the service trip. “We are used to these beautiful, huge churches and elaborate masses that these people don’t have anymore.”

The group lived in the administration offices of an unmanned aluminum factory in Waveland, Miss., the only building standing amongst the rubble and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers, said Brother Joe, a leader at the Northeastern Catholic Center.

“It is surprising that two years since Waveland has been hit by Katrina that they are still at 80 percent devastation, even after all the volunteers that have gone down,” said Liz Molloy, a sophomore physical therapy major. “But they were all just so happy to have us down there just to help out in any way that we could, even if it was for us to listen to them or their stories.”

The group heard the story of a man who was trapped in his attic by the rising water. He didn’t own an axe, Donovan said, but he prayed and one appeared in time for him to smash his way to survival.

For many members of the group, the trip was a “great experience to grow in fellowship” and a “positive faith boost.”

“I built friendships with those I went with, and then built friendships with those I helped, and through that, built a better friendship with Jesus,” said David Vitello, a middler accounting finance major. “We have seen that Jesus has loved us and we believe because of this we should share this love.”

But Volunteers of Hope was not religiously exclusive. A couple of agnostic students participated as well, Donovan said.

The NU group joined another group from Florida State University after leaving Boston March 4. After a week of labor, the group returned on Saturday.

“A huge part of this trip was preparing our funds and our emotions,” Ullrich said. “A lot of kids are not ready to see this kind of disparity.”

After extensive fundraising, each student paid $250 for the trip, Ullrich said. The group was also able to receive private donations and tools for families.

“Last year one of our vehicles broke down twice. One time on a train track,” Ullrich said. “But this year, thank God, things went smoothly.”

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