Dozens of Johns Hopkins students flew south for spring
break 2006, but the sun and fun were not necessarily on the
agenda. Call it a working vacation.
Members of three different groups, they traveled last
week to the Gulf region to help those affected by Hurricane
Katrina, in particular, residents in New Orleans and Moss
Fifteen Homewood undergraduates representing the
Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith and Community Service
Center went to the Gulf Coast on an "interfaith
rebuilding trip." The group believes that Katrina not only
caused tremendous suffering but also exposed dividing lines
of class, race, geography and wealth. Their aim, they said,
was to reach across some of those barriers to display a
model of American religious pluralism that reflects shared
The students and four staff members were in the poor
and devastated area of Moss Point, where they hung drywall,
painted, cleaned up yards, and installed insulation and
flooring in homes.
Reached there by phone, Tursina Abdul-Rashid, a senior
environmental engineering major, described the area as
generally unkempt with lots of undergrowth, wind and rain
damage "and broken windows everywhere." Abdul-Rashid said
the full-day workloads, beginning each day at 7 a.m., have
been strenuous but extremely rewarding.
"People here are really amazing. The [residents] have
been so positive, not angry or sad, just working hard," she
said. "It's been an amazing experience so far. I'm so glad
I came here."
The participants represent a number of faith
traditions and cultural backgrounds.
Ministries, including all its participating religious
and spiritual organizations, along with other campus
partners, funded the trip. Assistant Chaplain Kathy Schnurr
and Rabbi Joseph Menashe led the group, who were joined by
Lt. Col. Kenneth Romaine and Capt. Amy Wallace from the
JHU ROTC Blue Jay
The group stayed at Dantzler Memorial United Methodist
Church with other relief groups.
In Moss Point, Miss., the Johns
Hopkins students helped rebuild hurricane-devastated homes
by hanging drywall, painting, and installing insulation and
PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHY SCHNURR
Graduate students from the Institute
for Policy Studies and their friends and family members
lived at Camp Premier in New Orleans, the St. Bernard
Parish emergency tent city, and worked full time to remove
debris and start rebuilding in a community where most
residential and commercial structures suffered structural
damage. The major volunteer effort to rebuild — a
collaborative project among the parish government, FEMA and
New Orleans Habitat for Humanity — has only just
The group planned to contribute 400 hours of labor and
more than $1,000 in supplies and expenses.
Another five undergraduates headed to New Orleans to
work with the Common Ground Collective. The group set out
to help homeowners gut five to six houses that can either
be completely rebuilt or demolished, and to help clear out
warehouses for use as a staging area for 5,000 volunteers
Tom McBride, a senior public health studies major and
the group's coordinator, said the scene down there looked
like the storm happened just yesterday.
"Homes were completely abandoned," he said.
"Everything is still waterlogged, furniture scatted
McBride said that most of the homes he saw will need
to be disinfected and rebuilt. Those beyond repair will be
bulldozed to make way for new construction.
Samantha Simpson, a senior biology major whose family
has roots in Louisiana, said it has been an eye-opening
experience for her.
"You hear people talk about what it's like down here,
but it's a different world when you see it in person," she
said. "I'm glad that I can be here to contribute. It really
wasn't much of a decision [to come here]. This is something
that needs to be done."
The Common Ground Collective's mission is to provide
short-term relief for victims of hurricane disasters in the
Gulf Coast region and long-term support in rebuilding the
communities affected in the New Orleans area.
Simpson said she learned of the Common Ground
Collective from a television commercial she saw in early
February. She immediately ditched her plans to head to a
tropical island for spring break.
Amy Lunday contributed to this article.