2005-2006 Academic Year

Alternative Spring Break Trip

by Andrea Juckniess-Kemerer ’09

Student Group
Students from 15 colleges and universities came together in Gulfport, Mississippi to reroof houses devastated by Hurricane Katrina last year.

Six months have passed since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, but devastation remains. Wave after wave of volunteers have tested their physical endurance building new houses, clearing debris, repairing roofs, or providing emergency aid to the remaining residents. As the government continues focusing on the Iraqi conflict, citizens of the United States turn to governmental-funded aid corporations and other independent organizations for necessities and a helping hand.

Raised as a Christian, I have participated in mission work since I was physically able. I never assumed that mission work was strictly Christian, nor had I ruled out the option that other religious or non-religiously affiliated groups also spend vacations doing physical labor as an act of humanity. However, during Spring Break I was slightly overwhelmed by the reaction of the Jewish community among college students and young adults who were bursting with enthusiasm to reroof houses in Mississippi.

A group of 150 students from more than 15 colleges and universities gathered in a single Spring Break week on the small lot of Orange Grove Presbyterian Church in Gulfport, Miss. Fueled by the hope to achieve Tzedek, or justice, we faced less than comfortable conditions in order to better understand the struggle of the families we were helping. Our amenities consisted of PODS as tents, cots which elevated us from the flooding in the PODS, portable toilets, cold, bug-infested showers that were shielded from the public by a translucent plastic tarp, and one thick canvas tent for dining and evening programs. The church was generous in allowing free range of their kitchen to cook Kosher meals for the 150 volunteers.

Reroofing houses in Mississippi

In the Jewish calendar, we were working in the month of Adar, during which the holiday Purim falls. We improvised a Purim service in the large tent and respected both the most conservative and most liberal Jewish traditions as best we could. Some students fasted and others remained Kosher with the group.

Everyone faced discomfort or struggle. When they looked back on the week, though, exhausted as they were, they agreed that doing everything again would be an awesome opportunity. We were treated to a personal presentation by FEMA staff members who emphasized that after this short period of emergency relief, there are easily ten years of necessary recovery and the hurricane season is approaching yet again.

Fellow Claremont College students and I value our experiences and plan to support others who choose to make a trip or have hopes to journey again to the Katrina affected area.