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A Mississippi Mission

A Mississippi MissionMore than 100 Tufts students and alumni spent a week of their winter break in the Mississippi Gulf region helping to rebuild three small towns that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.17.06] For some, winter break is a time to unwind from finals, celebrate the holidays and relax before the beginning of another action-packed semester. For others, like the 110 Tufts University students and alumni who traveled to the Mississippi Gulf region this January, it’s an opportunity to help people in three rural communities get back on their feet after Hurricane Katrina.

“I felt for what was going on down there,” Tufts senior Alexandra Kramer, who helped to organize the “volunteer vacation,” told New England Cable News. “I was so lucky that I didn’t have to experience something like that, but at the same time it made me realize that I really wanted to do something.”

Kramer joined forces with two other Tufts students to arrange the trip through the Leonard Carmichael Society, a student-run organization at Tufts that connects more than 1,500 volunteers each year to dozens of different programs. Kramer told Boston ’s WCVB-TV News, student response to the trip was overwhelming.

“By the end we ended up cutting the program down to 100 students,” Kramer told the news station. “In terms of securing the plane tickets … you can only have so many people, so it was first come first serve.”

Senior Jessica Harris was one of the volunteers who landed a spot on the trip to Mississippi, where students and alumni helped to rebuild three small towns, Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis and Waveland. According to Harris, these communities have all received little media attention or aid since Katrina.

“The press has settled down and people [still need] our help,” Harris told WCVB-TV. “People are still living in tents.”

Rachel Rosen, another of the trip’s organizers, told the Somerville Journal that the group’s decision to travel to these three towns was largely based on that fact.

"We didn’t really want to go to New Orleans because it’s so high profile,” Rosen, a senior, told the Journal. “We wanted to go somewhere that was affected and still needed a lot of help."

WCVB-TV reported that the group’s mission included “clearing debris, distributing supplies [and] helping to reconstruct buildings.” For some, like senior Laurel Nguyen, the drill was familiar.

“I have done one other volunteer vacation before doing a similar sort of thing in North Carolina and I really enjoyed that a lot,” Nguyen told NECN. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to do the same sort of thing when there was really a great need.”

While the students were eager to lend a helping hand in the region, they also welcomed the chance to develop lasting relationships with their peers. Many of them, in fact, met for the first time during a pre-trip pizza party at Tufts’ Gantcher Center, where they gathered to sleep the night before they boarded a plane destined for Jackson.

“Bonds that you make on these trips are just fantastic,” Kramer, who has participated in two other volunteer vacations at Tufts, told NECN. “You end up being best friends with these people by the end of the week. It’s nice to see other people who want to get out and want to help just as much as I do.”

At Tufts, where student interest in the trip outmatched capacity, you don’t have to look far to find a kindred spirit.

“It was something I just felt like I really needed to do,” senior Peter Downes told NECN.

Rosen added in the Journal, “I just feel like, since we are at a university like Tufts, we have this kind of opportunity and the resources, the funding to do it. I think it’ll be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”


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