From the Worldwide Faith News archives

College-Age Lutherans Head to U.S. Gulf Coast for Spring Break

Date Mon, 26 Feb 2007 16:27:05 -0600

Title: College-Age Lutherans Head to U.S. Gulf Coast for Spring Break ELCA NEWS SERVICE

February 26, 2007

College-Age Lutherans Head to U.S. Gulf Coast for Spring Break 07-026-MRC

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- More than 800 college and university students from across the country are traveling to the U.S. Gulf Coast during spring break to rebuild homes damaged during the 2005 hurricane season. Through "What a Relief!" -- an opportunity for students and others in campus communities to get involved in disaster relief work -- some students said that volunteer work was a "life-changing" experience.

Ryan J. Martin, a student at Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, N.C., said engaging in disaster response work in St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans, was important work. On Aug. 29, 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over the eastern portion of St. Bernard Parish. The hurricane produced a 25-foot storm surge, destroying the levees there. Almost the entire parish was flooded, with most areas sustaining 5 to 12 feet of standing water.

"It's hard to realize that something that drastic can really happen," said Martin, who worked alongside other students and residents of St. Bernard Parish in 2006, when What a Relief! began.

"The opportunity to help out fellow citizens was awesome," said Martin. "To see the joy and happiness that people possessed, despite having lost everything, was life-changing for me. (The experience) changed everything in life that I view as important. Relationships with people are so much more valuable and sustaining" than material possessions, which "our society views as a big part of life," he said.

Martin said two homes he and others worked on "sat under 13 feet of water. We removed everything -- sinks, carpet, appliances, furniture, cabinets and drywall. The homes were cleaned to the studs," he said. "Every day we were covered from head to toe in stagnant mud and drywall dust."

"We worked hard for five straight days" and "walked away changed," said Martin. "At the end of the trip I found it hard to leave. To walk away from (people here) was very difficult for me. I felt like I was short-changing them in going back to my air-conditioned apartment with running water and a solid roof over my head. All they have is a 20-foot camper in their front yard. Every morning they get up to look at the awful sight of everything they owned in shambles. I have made it my pledge to (the people of St. Bernard Parish) to inform everyone I run across that this area is in desperate need of help," he said. "We, as fellow citizens, need to take care of each other."

With four other students from Lenoir-Rhyne College, Martin is returning March 4-10 to St. Bernard Parish through What a Relief! "I hope that things (in St. Bernard Parish) have changed for the better," he said. Lenoir-Rhyne is one of 28 colleges and universities of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Abby Norduane, a second-year student at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind., will be among a group of eight students and two advisors scheduled to work in the greater New Orleans area March 3-10 under What a Relief! Valparaiso is an independent Lutheran university.

"This trip is one of two that students involved in (Valparaiso's) Social Action Leadership Team (SALT) had a choice" to participate in during spring break, said Norduane, who serves as secretary and volunteer coordinator for SALT. "We chose this trip because we feel that it embraces our call to action as Christians and embraces SALT's passion and focus on social justice," she said.

"We hope that students come back with an enhanced perspective on social justice and are encouraged to seek out avenues in which to enhance their call to action and passion for social justice," said Norduane.

Based here, Lutheran Disaster Response -- a ministry of the ELCA and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod -- coordinates What a Relief! Student volunteer groups are organized through campus ministry centers, community service organizations and other entities. Students participating in the 2007 What a Relief! effort represent some 34 U.S. colleges and universities, 13 of which are affiliated with the ELCA. They will work in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas between February 25 and March 31.

"Over the (past) year, the work that our volunteers is doing has changed somewhat," said Michael D. Nevergall, associate for program interpretation, Lutheran Disaster Response. Many of the students who volunteered last spring gutted "homes to prepare them for repairs. Now that many houses have been gutted, the students will be helping to rebuild by hanging new sheets of drywall, painting new interior walls and replacing roofing shingles. The groups have been asked to include skilled volunteers from their communities who will help accompany, teach and supervise (the students) in their work. For returning participants who were gutting homes last spring, these tasks will be a neat way to bring their work full circle," he said. - - -

Information about the work of Lutheran Disaster Response is at on the Web.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or ELCA News Blog:

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