More college students are choosing to spend their spring break working for volunteer service missions rather than flying to sunny vacation spots. During the NIACC Spring Break last month, 16 students joined this growing trend of volunteer efforts. Brent Hamilton, NIACC math instructor and campus ministry advisor, coordinated the week-long service trip to Waveland, Mississippi, where students worked for Katrina Relief projects.
“Waveland was one of the many towns that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Even though it has been nearly four years, there are still a large number of restoration projects remaining in the region,” said Hamilton. This is the second year Hamilton has taken a group of NIACC student volunteers on a mission trip to the Gulf of Mexico region but the first time working through the Katrina Relief organization. Katarina Relief is one organization that coordinates volunteer workers for home and city restoration projects in Waveland.
Mark Messer, NIACC communication skills instructor; Dr. John Nolan, Mason City; Hamilton; and the NIACC students left early on Saturday, March 7, for their volunteer service experience. In order to keep costs for the students at a minimum, the first night’s accommodations were spent sleeping on the floor of First United Methodist Church in Blytheville, Arkansas. By Sunday evening the group reached their destination at the camp in Pass Christian, Mississippi, which would be their home for the week of service. To stretch their budgets even further, students pooled money to buy groceries and cooked their own meals while they were at the camp. The camp, operated by Katrina Relief, charged a minimal fee of $5 per day per student and provided a hot water shower for everyone. While at the camp, NIACC students were joined by other student service groups from Illinois, New York and North Carolina.
Katrina Relief had numerous projects which kept the students busy during the four days they were scheduled as volunteers in Waveland. NIACC students and the adult leaders were divided up into three work groups. They worked at putting in windows and doors, hanging drywall, digging ditches for water lines, stripping decks, building fences and planting 40 bushes in the city park. The completion of these projects made a difference in the lives of the residents at Waveland and their goal of returning to pre-Katrina conditions.
The journey did include some rest, relaxation and fun for the students. Relief volunteers enjoyed a Louisiana Cajun Encounters swamp tour (complete with a sighting of Cindy the Alligator). When they were not volunteering, the group went to the beach on the Gulf of Mexico for swimming, volleyball and relaxation by the ocean. A detour to New Orleans and a visit to the French Quarter were included on the return trip home.
All told, each student spent approximately $100 for their week-long service trip, a small price to pay for a tremendous life experience. “Our trip was funded through the NIACC student Campus Ministry Association (CMA),” said Hamilton. The CMA, a NIACC student organization, budgeted about $1,900 to cover the hotel stay, t-shirts for the students and gasoline.
“We had a good mixture of students and adult leaders along for the service trip,” said Hamilton. Students, who had not normally interacted on campus during the semester, spent their week of spring break meeting new friends and helping others less fortunate. As one student commented, “We went down to Mississippi as strangers and came back as friends.”
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