BY NICHOLAS DIMARTINO
Since Hurricane Katrina, Sacred Heart students have annually traveled to Lucedale, Mississippi to help the relief and reconstruction efforts in its aftermath. Since Hurricane Harvey demolished the city of Houston this past month, this year’s group of students will travel to the greater Houston area instead to help the relief efforts there.
The trip lasts one week in duration, and this year it is scheduled for the final week of winter break.
“I want to put our students in positions where they can understand that they can help others with the great amount of privilege they have,” said Karreem Mebane, Director of Sacred Heart’s Office of Volunteer Programs and Service Learning.
The organization that the program is working with is Community Collaborations International (CCI). The two towns that Sacred Heart students will visit are Port Arthur and Beaumont, both east of Houston.
When the program first began in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it was called the Mississippi Matters Service Trip.
Senior Logan Cook, student leader for the trip, said that the program primarily works on houses, food banks, and anything else affected by the hurricane that is in need of repair. The student volunteers wake up to a communal breakfast, and throughout the day work from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. Cook explained that before the volunteers go to bed, they participate in group activities and reflect on their day.
The volunteers will be split into two different groups.
“All the students essentially have the same jobs” said Cook. “One group might be working with home repair and one group might be working on a food bank.”
Cook stated that one negative aspect of the experience is witnessing the extreme hardships faced by the people they are helping.
“We’re one of the first colleges from the Northeast to go down to Houston during this time frame,” said Cook. “You really take things for granted, and you really don’t know how good you have it.”
Sudents interested in becoming volunteers must complete an application in the Spring semester prior to the winter trip. As the spring semester ends, these students will be notified whether they will be among the participants of the program. Freshman can fill out the application in the fall semester if they wish to attend.
Between 16 and 20 student volunteers go on the trip every year.
Mebane articulated that the program had a positive impact on the community in Mississippi, but that in Houston it will be both more dramatic and more demanding for its students.
“[The trip to] Mississippi was dealt with primarily through a Habitat for Humanity affiliate,” said Cook.
The program worked mostly with building houses when in Mississippi. This year, students will participate in a broader range of activities including food banks and after-school programs.
“No matter what volunteer work you do, even if it’s the smallest thing, it makes a difference somewhere along the line,” said Brendan Capuano, student volunteer and Assistant News Editor of The Spectrum.
The hands-on experience stresses Sacred Heart’s core values of service and compassion.
“This experience reaffirms my belief in the good of human beings,” said Mebane. “This program is really at the core of my heart.”