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Katrina changes lives of APSU student-volunteers

Fall break may mean rest and relaxation for most college students, but for one Austin Peay State University group, it was time to work.

Students from APSUs Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) spent the recent fall break in hurricane-ravaged areas of Mississippi, removing water-damaged furniture, carpet, drywall and insulation from homes, clearing debris from yards, demolishing structures beyond repair and salvaging what they could.
Fall break may mean rest and relaxation for most college students, but for one Austin Peay State University group, it was time to work.

Students from APSU's Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) spent the recent fall break in hurricane-ravaged areas of Mississippi, removing water-damaged furniture, carpet, drywall and insulation from homes, clearing debris from yards, demolishing structures beyond repair and salvaging what they could.

These APSU students, who slept on cots at Gulfport's New Hope Baptist Church, were among more than 750 BCM students from campuses across Tennessee who volunteered to help hurricane victims in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana during their fall break.

“We were scheduled to have our annual Tennessee Baptist Collegiate Ministry fall FOCUS event in Nashville the week before fall break,” says Rev. Jim Alexander, director of APSU's BCM. “But given the needs of those affected by Hurricane Katrina, all BCMs felt our resources and time were better spent by going on this mission.”

On Friday, Oct. 14, 16 students and eight alumni from APSU's BCM traveled 550 miles to Biloxi, Miss., arriving during the night.

“When we got to our first work assignment the next morning, it didn't look so bad from the outside,” says Natoshia Mikel, an education major from Cleveland, Tenn. “But once we got inside, we could see the water damage was extreme.”

In addition to the water damage, residents also had to contend with another of nature's invaders—black mold.

“Mold was creeping up all the walls,” says freshman philosophy major Lee Billings of Clarksville, noting all volunteers wore protective masks. “In most homes, we had to remove all the drywall and insulation; everything down to the studs.”

Though their assignments primarily included manual labor, the students made time to salvage memories.

“We were helping a woman whose house literally had been swept into the bay,” says Billings. “She wanted to take the remaining bricks and make a sidewalk with them when she rebuilds, so we broke the bricks apart for her. Now she'll always be able to remember her home.”

After three long days of work, the BCM group returned to Clarksville Tuesday, Oct. 18.

“There is so much that needs to be done,” says Rochelle Simpkins, a freshman from Watertown, Tenn. “When we left, it felt like we had not even put a dent in it.

“But then I realized that if we helped even one person, we had done something. That's how you get through something this big—by helping one person at a time.”

Alexander says he believes the students' lives were changed by the experience.

“On some student missions, our work is not as physically demanding or as dramatic. Some students really have to stretch their faith to believe what they do makes a difference,” he says. “This was a dramatic experience. They could see the difference they were making.

“The lives of those who live on the gulf coast surely have been changed, but the lives of those who come to their aid have been changed, as well.”

APSU's BCM already has planned two additional missions to the area—one during winter break and one during spring break. Where will they go next time?
“We'll go where we are needed,” says Alexander. —Terry Stringer Damron