Liz Argentieri, reference/instruction and special collections librarian, was one of nearly 50 SUNY Geneseo students and staff who traveled to Gulfport, MS, March 9-17, 2007 to help rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The work trip, billed as “alternative Spring Break,” was the latest of several trips organized by Livingston CARES, a college and community organization of volunteers dedicated to providing long-term recovery assistance to hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast communities, especially in Harrison County.
The group left by bus at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 9, and arrived in Gulfport at 3 p.m. the following day. The first order of business was to get settled with the host recovery center, the North Carolina Baptist Men’s Christian Association, which has been using a local armory to house, feed, and supply disaster response volunteers from all over the country. The Geneseo group was housed at a nearby Baptist church, but took meals (and showers!) at the armory.
The first full day in Harrison County, Sunday, was spent visiting sights along the coast in Gulfport and Biloxi and simply bearing witness to Katrina’s horrible aftermath. In the afternoon, the group tackled its first project: helping to restore a county-owned greenhouse that had been damaged by the hurricane and subsequently overrun with wild growth. It was cleared out in no time, ready for the next phase of its restoration, much to the delight of Harrison County Beautification Director, Cindy Simmons.
The volunteers were divided into smaller teams for the rest of week, each assigned to an individual home in Gulfport. Some of the tasks included removing and replacing drywall, installing floor tile, scraping and painting, hauling away debris from yards and homes, installing bathroom fixtures, and generally helping homeowners get their properties back to (or better than) their pre-Katrina condition. Although everyone was tired by the end of each long workday, most still found the energy in the evening to play soccer on the beach or walk to the Dairy Queen for a much-deserved break.
By 5:45 p.m. on Friday, March 16, the bus was pulling away from the NCBM recovery center for the last time and beginning the 22-hour return trip to Geneseo. The next Livingston CARES trip will take place May 13-19, 2007. For more information, including work trip reports, visit the Livingston CARES website.