Ten years ago, when Hurricane Katrina came through the Gulf Coast, JMU students were quick to answer the call to volunteer in the months shortly following the disaster. Members of JMU’s Alternative Break Program spent their Thanksgiving break in 2005 volunteering their time to the relief efforts following the devastating hurricane.
“While they were down there, I don’t recall exactly who said it, perhaps it was the FEMA coordinator, made the comment that with this level of disaster, they would need help for at least ten years,” Misty Newman, Assistant Director of the Alternative Break Program, says. It was from that comment, that the May Break program was born, sending a busload of JMU students to the Gulf Coast region each year since 2005.
Now ten years later, Newman estimates that JMU has taken 20 trips and sent over 760 people to the Gulf Coast region. “I think it’s really cool,” Newman said “You think, why would people here in Virginia from a smaller town, be really connected to the Gulf Coast . . . it’s kind of powerful to think about how many people have a connection to that community, which you wouldn’t really anticipate.”
To commemorate this decade long effort, the office of Community Service Learning has created Hurricane Katrina Awareness week. “Our office, we kind of tell you the emotional piece of it,” Newman says. “There are still so many needs that exist… we want to motivate students into action, so students become active citizens and respond.”
To do this, Newman and her office want to show other sides of disaster relief. “We’re trying to think, how would different offices across campus, intersect with this issue,” Newman says. “For instance, Career and Academic Planning is co-sponsoring a program where they’re having a Red Cross panel [where] they’re going to talk about how you could have a career in disaster relief.”
Other events include a counseling center program on surviving trauma, a “Science on the Sphere” event discussing the impact of Katrina on climate change, and a Open Mic Night at TDU. You can check out the full list of events here or look below.