By Greg Russell
Spring break in New Orleans — especially during Mardi Gras — usually means good times
for study-weary students. But University of Memphis sophomore Mandy Martin found reason
to shed a tear.
Martin became emotionally moved while talking to a man whose 2-year-old granddaughter
and mother perished in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina.
“His story of strength, faith and perseverance was so moving to hear that I was moved
to tears by the end of my talk with him,” said Martin, a musical theatre major from
Nashville. “He told us all about the help volunteers have given, the publicity that
has helped bring light to the incident and led to more volunteers, and his own personal
growth through it all. Those beautiful qualities in a man who’s lost so much made
me want to be better and do better as a person.”
Martin and 13 other U of M students were in New Orleans to take part in one of two
alternative spring break opportunities offered through the University’s Student Activities
Council. The other group stayed in Memphis to work with MIFA. A third group led by
Colton Cockrum, assistant director of the Hardin Honors programs, helped clean up
McKellar Lake. (Read that story at http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/lake-of-trash/Content?oid=2683145)
Fourteen students from the University of Memphis spent their spring break in New Orleans
working on homes in impoverished areas, including the Lower Ninth Ward.
All of the students found what they were looking for: a meaningful alternative to
the traditional spring break pilgrimage to Florida’s beaches.
“We worked on people’s homes that were in danger of being repossessed by the government,”
said Martin, whose group volunteered with the service organization United Saints.
“It was pretty appalling the things that have happened to these people since the hurricane.
We worked on repairing homes, and priming and painting houses.”
Senior communications major Justin Harvison of Jackson, Tenn., was equally as moved
by the experience in the Ninth Ward.
“Our main focus as an individual school was to fix this lady's house that was damaged
by the storm. Five years later and she still suffers uncertainty. We scraped her house
of the old paint, primed it with new paint, put up new siding and painted over the
primed areas with a cool gray paint. She told us, ‘Ya’ll are doing a better job than
the professionals.’ In response, our site leader said, ‘It's because we care.’”
Eight U of M students stayed in Memphis to volunteer for MIFA during spring break.
Closer to home, Julia Y. Noel, a sophomore health and human performance major, joined
seven other U of M students to do work for MIFA. Their week included a neighborhood
cleanup project, unloading donations for the MIFA thrift store and taking part in
Meals on Wheels.
“We worked on a house near the MIFA building, removing some of the old paint, digging
up old tree stumps and measuring the windows and doors for boarding,” Noel said. “I
think everyone really enjoyed participating in Meals on Wheels, which is an event
MIFA does for citizens who are either immobilized or elderly and cannot do their own
cooking and grocery shopping. I thought it was a lot of fun going to each individual’s
room to deliver the meals. We got to meet and talk to a lot of nice and interesting
people at each stop.”
Anthony Vukusich, U of M Greek Life and Community Service adviser, says alternative
spring breaks lay the groundwork for future dedication to community engagement and
service by students.
“The University provides alternative spring break as an opportunity for students to
learn and develop through service while experiencing a community outside their own,”
he said. “By participating, students not only make a difference in the lives of others
through their direct efforts, but gain a more diverse world view.”
Angie Dunlap Norwood, coordinator of the U of M’s Student Activities Council, says
the University offered different spring break options because of overwhelming interest
“Because of housing limitations, we could only take 14 out of the 52 students who
applied to go to New Orleans,” she said. “In order to provide additional opportunities
for students to serve, we put together the local alternative spring break opportunity.”
Students on each alternative spring break opportunity got to experience more than
just hard work.
“We were able to see loads of parades and eat local food and hear amazing bands,”
said Martin of her trip to New Orleans. “It was a ton of fun.”
Said Noel of her Memphis experience, “We visited the National Civil Rights Museum,
Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, the Trolley Market and Kooky Canuck Restaurant. They
Read a blog kept by students about the Memphis and New Orleans alternative spring
breaks at http://uofmasb.blogspot.com/.