Every day during Momentum, more than 500 students board busses in Hattiesburg for the southern Mississippi communities of Gulfport and Pearlington, both at least an hour ride away. They are headed to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, many whom have waited nearly two years for assistance with clean-up, home repair, and even home replacement.
By the end of the week, Dan, the project administrator from Pennsylvania, estimates the students will have donated more than 10,000 hours to the clean-up. Add to that the time spent by 58 project administrators and managers, more than 14,000 hours will be tallied.
The work is hard and dirty. There are is much to be done. In Gulfport, there are 12 sites that need painting, drywall removal, yard cleanup, and other tasks. In Pearlington, near where the eye of the hurricane came ashore, the plan is to build 11 new homes and to repair, paint, and clean around another 23. The remote community is one of the last to receive help from the federal government.
Few of the young people have shirked from their duty.
“They’ve got some momentum in them,” says Shawn, a volunteer project manager from Kittanning, Pa., who is overseeing the construction of a house in Pearlington.
“If they don’t have a job, they come ask what they can do. They want to keep busy. I couldn’t be more happy.”
He stops to answer a question from a student, then looks toward house site, where joists are being laid 13 feet in the air, perched on pilons. “Our goal at the end of the week is to have this shelled up,” says Shawn, an ironworker in Pittsburgh.
In Gulfport, 40 miles to the east, three teens from Iowa have been installing drywall in a home.
“I absolutely love helping in any way I can,” says Dale. Her hair is pulled back in a bandana and her face is smudged with drywall dust. “Today we didn’t have much contact with people, but someone is going to be living in this house. It makes me feel good to know that I helped make it some place nice for them to live.”
A few blocks away, a youth group from Modesto, Calif. have been clearing the site of a garage and hauling the debris to the curb. It’s given them a new appreciation for the things they have.
“I don’t know how fortunate I am,” admits Will. “I know that I’m fortunate and this just opens my eyes even more (to how much I really have).”
To view more reports and photos from Momentum, click here.
Pictured above at right are Dale and Darin, both students from Iowa.