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Volunteer Spring Break Tradition Continues On Gulf Coast

By Evelina Burnett | Published 17 Mar 2014 06:29pm | comments

Almost nine years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast, some organizations say the coast still needs all the helping hands it can get.

MPB's Evelina Burnett reports on a group of college students who are using their spring break to give back.

Toni Monette uses a roller to paint a coat of sealer on the foundation of a Habitat for Humanity house in Bay St. Louis. Monette is a graduate student at the Universty of Nebraska-Omaha, and she’s here with the United Way of South Mississippi's alternative spring break.

"I wanted to do something that would be, not just fun and exciting, or like a normal spring break, I wanted to do something that would actually give back," she says. "And this was the perfect opportunity to do that, in an area that needs it the most."

About 25 students from 19 different colleges are on the coast this week for alternative spring break. These volunteer spring break trips became common after Hurricane Katrina. The number of participants - as with other volunteers here - has fallen, but Mississippi organizations say they’re grateful for the help.

"We used to have enormous numbers of volunteers, but everything has downsized because people have forgotten about the Coast, they've forgotten what happened during Hurricane Katrina," says Chuck Cuendet, a supervisor with Habitat for Humanity in Bay-Waveland. He’s got six spring breakers helping this week.

"People just think, they're all back to normal now. Katrina, especially in Bay St. Louis and Waveland, the devastation was just enormous. People just don't really comprehend that, just how devastating it was. So we get these young people on spring vacation, it's just essential for us."

United Way has alternative spring break trips all over the country and says it hopes these trips will inspire young people to get involved.

Paige Roebuck is a senior at Purdue University. This is her third alternative spring break in Biloxi, and she says the best part is the friends she’s met. Oh, and she’s learned a few skills along the way.

"I'm really good at caulking," she says. "I took off a roof before, and shingled. Now we're painting, looks like we're going to learn how to side a house this week. I'm excited. It will be useful in the future, right?"

In addition to the Habitat build, this year’s spring break-ers are volunteering at a Boys & Girls Club, a children’s museum and the Salvation Army.

Tonya Wiley with United Way Worldwide says the work is part of the coast's long-term recovery.

"While there's a lot that's been done in the community, there's still ways that we can help support what's happening and really supporting families," she says.  "Even this particular center here is very vibrant and we have kids that come throughout for field trips, and there's a way that we can support this effort. So that is the focus of this particular area."

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