Help After the Hurricane

Marisa Monroe

After Hurricane Rita created more destruction down south, Colgate students wanted to take immediate action.

“Students came together in the aftermath who wanted to do something,” Director of Community Outreach Marnie Terhune said.

As a result, the Center for Outreach Volunteerism Education (COVE) decided to plan a trip during October Break to Lafayette, Lousiana, which is located above Vermillion Parish, an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Rita. Working through the Southern Mutual Help Association, a small grassroots organization, Terhune overcame bureaucratic obstacles that would have otherwise kept the students’ efforts further removed from where immediate physical help is needed.

“We’re going to be delivering supplies, not carrying around clipboards,” Terhune said.

However, the center where Southern Mutual had planned to house the students in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina may now be filled with refugees from Hurricane Rita. Additionally, transportation may bepresent a problem an even bigger issue.

“I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent on,” Terhune said, regarding the difficulties of finding airline space for the seventeen students and three staff members going to Louisiana. Plans to drive were abandoned because of the impracticality of 24-hour drives. Students plan to distribute basic supplies, such as water and bleach, to residents in makeshift campgrounds. Many displaced refugees want only a tarp to put over their head before they can start to do anything else.

Working with the physical needs of the people is the driving force behind this first trip, but the focus may change in future trips to come. Nor only are students interested in relief like fundraising and reconstructive building, but theywant to take action in social, racial, justice and environmental issues.

“They wanted to get in their cars and start swinging their hammers,” Terhune said, “but there are socioeconomic issues. People with means could escape the hurricane and also have resources – others may never recover.”

Depending on how the October Break trip goes, the COVE may organize four more school-year trips over Thanksgiving break, winter vacation and spring break.

“After this trip we’ll have a better sense about where we’ll go,” Terhune said, explaining plans the COVE has for continuing work in the south. “We’re using this trip as a bit of a guinea pig. We’re looking forward not only to doing work, but the COVE is trying to make local connections.”

Summer internships with agencies involved in rebuilding may also be offered through the COVE, covering environmental impact and political issues.

“We just had to do something,” Terhune said.