Mount Union Students Lend Helping Hands on the Gulf Coast

May 05, 2010

For some Mount Union students, spring break meant more than having a few days away from classes. It meant traveling to the Gulf Coast to help in the continual rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina.

Amanda Espenschied-Reilly, director of service-learning and community service for Mount Union College, and Leigh Anne Drago, AmeriCorps VISTA service leader, led the group of 12 students to Mississippi, where they stayed for one week.

Students involved include freshmen Ashley Spragale of Mercer, PA, Travis Todd of New Stanton, PA, Jamie Louk of Spencer, OH, Heather Stump of Wadsworth, OH, Stephanie Cartwright of Wadsworth, OH and Theresa Callahan of Lorain, OH, sophomores Ashley Walker of Oberlin, OH, Luke Messner of Dalton, OH and Melissa Stinson of Painesville, OH and juniors Jodi Heath of Spencer, OH, Melonie Jurcevic of Parma, OH and Sarah Cochran of Springfield, OH.

While in Mississippi, the group stayed at Camp Coastal Outpost in Kiln and worked in the towns of Waveland, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and Pearlington. The trip was funded by the Mount Union Center for Public Service.

All of the volunteer projects were organized by Community Collaborations International, a non-profit group that helps organize volunteer travel. 'They were super to work with and I will definitely be traveling with them in the future with other student groups,' said Espenschied-Reilly.

On Sunday the group made lunch, dinner and sack lunches for the next day for all of the other groups that were in the same camp to give the camp staff a day off. The group also cleaned out a yard and garage for a Mississippi family. Other work included helping to socialize and walk dogs at Waveland Animal Shelter, helping at the Waveland and Pass Christian Boys and Girls Clubs after-school programs, painting the outside of three houses and the inside of one, building the foundation for two wheelchair ramps, and much more.

'I absolutely cannot believe how much work we accomplished in such a short time. We were able to meet many of the people whose homes we were working on and the outpouring of appreciation was wonderful,' Espenschied-Reilly said.

After working during the day, the students enjoyed programs at night in which speakers came to discuss their part in the storm recovery. Mike Sweeny, of Hancock County Incident Command, Ricky Johnson, a soil conservationist and Coach Larry Ladner from the University of Southern Mississippi talked about their experiences with the storm.

Other groups at the camp included Northeastern University, The University of Virginia, The University of Memphis, International Aid, AmeriCorps NCCC teams and University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Speaking of this year's student volunteers, Espenschied-Reilly said, 'I am very proud of the students that I took to Mississippi. There was a great sense of camaraderie. That kind of engagement and selflessness is a rare and wonderful thing.'

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