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Students Dedicate Spring Break to Helping Storm Victims

4/1/2008 —

DuBois – Four Penn State DuBois students and one campus staff member spent spring break volunteering in storm-ravaged Mississippi with the emergency and refugee program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.   Student Life Coordinator, Marly Greeley led students Julie Wojtaszek, Jennie Korb, Melissa Livergood and Megan Lundgren to Biloxi, Mississippi, where they helped to rehabilitate a state park and  a home devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005. 

“It’s amazing how much devastation there was. You would think that after two and a half years things would be better,” said Korb, noting that many homes in the Biloxi area are still as bad, or worse that they were just after the storm hit. 

Livergood added, “There are still so many empty foundations and stairs that just lead to nothing.”

Impacted by what they saw while driving to the camp, the Penn State DuBois group was very determined to make a difference, and they had a great opportunity to do so.  Combined with students from Penn State’s Behrend, Brandywine, Lehigh Valley and Harrisburg campuses, 72 Penn Staters made up the largest group ever to volunteer with PDA.  They made the PDA encampment their home for the week; up to six people would share a single tent-like “pod”, and take turns cooking and performing other chores to the benefit of the entire group.  Here only a few short hours of rest were enjoyed each night, before they headed back out to labor in the Mississippi heat. 

In Sheppard State Park the volunteers planted trees, cleaned up debris, rebuilt foot bridges and breathed new life into picnic areas. 

However, the amateur construction crew from DuBois found their greatest rewards in remodeling a home for one victim of the storm.

Wojtaszek recalls a 79 year old woman who lived on her own in a home still in a dilapidated post-Katrina state, “She was on her own, her house was falling apart and the yard was overgrown.  It looked like nobody lived there,” she recalls.  The woman they came to call “Lilly” had health problems and could not even leave her home for over a year.   As they applied fresh paint and landscaped around the home, Lilly told the students they were the answer to her prayers. Each member of the group recounted the story with tears in their eyes.

“She said she prayed for an Easter miracle, and she believes God sent us, and we were her miracle,” Wojtaszek said.  “We mowed the yard, planted flowers and painted her house, and she was so grateful.”

“She made us realize a lot about ourselves,” Korb said.  “So many other people also thanked us and were so appreciative.  I didn’t know it would mean so much to everyone.”

Livergood adds, “It made me realize that I take too much for granted and over stress about things.  This was something bigger than yourself and you’re a part of it,” she said. 

Student Life Coordinator, Marly Greeley says she’s thankful the students had such positive experiences, and that they made such a positive impact in Mississippi.  “It makes me feel so good to have students like this,” Greeley said.  “I’m very proud of them for spending their spring break working so hard.  They are wonderful leaders in our community. 

Greeley and the students who volunteered in Mississippi would also like to thank the Rotary Club, Johnson Motors, WOWQ, and Representative Dan Surra for supporting their cause.

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