December 5, 2005
Whitworth Students to Assist with Hurricane Relief in Mississippi
A team of Whitworth students will assist with disaster-relief efforts in Mississippi in January as part of a new study program, "Communities in Crisis: Service and Learning in the Gulf Coast," which the college developed this fall in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region. Eighteen students, led by five faculty and staff members, will travel to Gulfport and Jackson, where they will work alongside community members to remove debris and contaminated housing material, and to repair and renovate homes.
In addition to engaging in service projects, students will study the history and culture of the Gulf Coast, secular and religious social-support networks in the area, and the effects of poverty and trauma on individuals and families. Students will also learn about art that is unique to the region, and about creating art as a way to respond to and heal from tragic incidents.
"We developed the program out of a desire to serve the Gulf Coast and to provide a learning experience for students," says Andrea Donahoe, visiting professor of psychology and one of the program's creators and faculty leaders. "Students will assist communities in need, but more than that, they will grow personally and broaden their worldviews as they serve and work alongside community members."
While in Mississippi, participants plan to share their experiences in an online travelogue that will include photos and student-journal entries. The travelogue will be accessible on the Whitworth website at www.whitworth.edu/offcampusstudies.
The "Communities in Crisis" program will begin with an on-campus orientation Jan. 3-4 before the group flies to New Orleans and then drives to Gulfport on Jan. 5. While in Gulfport, the group will stay at Westminster Presbyterian Church and will collaborate with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on reconstruction projects in small towns in the surrounding area. In Gulfport, students will learn about the pre-hurricane Gulf Coast's economics, social services, and educational system.
Whitworth is one of many colleges and universities throughout the country whose students are collaborating with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to provide hurricane relief. Schools whose students are joining the effort include the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, Florida State University, and Princeton Theological Seminary, according to Russ Jackson, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's hurricane volunteer center. The students are participating through study programs similar to Whitworth's or through their institutions' campus ministry programs.
On Jan. 14 the Whitworth group will travel to Jackson, where the students will coordinate their relief efforts with the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development, an organization located in inner-city Jackson that seeks to restore communities through Christian community development and racial reconciliation.
The team will stay at the foundation's guesthouse and will participate in its ongoing projects, including renovation work on houses in the surrounding low-income neighborhoods and programs for area youth. Students will also learn about issues of urban poverty and access to resources in Jackson.
The group will return to Spokane Jan. 21 and will take part in an on-campus debriefing session Jan. 22-24. In February, participants will present an on-campus program incorporating photos, video, art and team members' reflections of their experiences.
"Our hope is that the 'Communities in Crisis' program will be the first of an ongoing attempt to serve and learn about communities in need," Donahoe says. "Hurricane recovery will last for a number of years, which will provide the opportunity for Whitworth students to return and assist with reconstruction and build relationships in the Gulf Coast. The program could also expand to include service learning in other cities and even in other nations."
The program will be led by Donahoe and Associate Professor of Art Gordon Wilson. Coordinator of Ministry and Multicultural Affairs Stephaine Nobles-Beans will oversee devotions and worship services, and will help students be aware of and sensitive to the needs of the individuals whom they are serving. Resident Director Kelli Helsel and Assistant Director for Residence Life Nicole Boymook will support students as they process their service and learning experiences while they're in Mississippi; Helsel and Boymook will also assist with the orientation and debriefing processes.
Donahoe and Wilson flew to Mississippi in November to finalize their program plans and to learn firsthand about the extent of the devastation and recovery efforts. The two videotaped the areas they visited in order to better prepare the Whitworth students for the program.
"We saw examples of families who had arranged their belongings in the form of mini-still lifes at the sites of their destroyed homes; in these acts we saw the resilience of the hurricane victims," Wilson says. "We saw humorous signs such as 'Open House' in front of some heavily damaged homes. Other homes had signs, 'Trespass and Be Shot." Different people deal with stress and disaster in different ways. Making art about personal loss is definitely part of the healing process."
In early September, as an immediate response to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, Whitworth and other colleges and universities throughout the country opened their doors to displaced college students who were enrolled in institutions that had suffered damage and that had subsequently shut down. Two students from the region enrolled at Whitworth for the fall semester; the college asked that the students make arrangements to pay their home institutions to aid in reconstruction costs.
Whitworth faculty conceived the "Communities in Crisis" program this fall when college administrators learned that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance was coordinating camps for volunteer groups who traveled to the region to help with recovery. Whitworth Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Le Roy invited interested faculty to coordinate a Jan Term study program in collaboration with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
Donahoe, Wilson and Interim Director of Development for Special Projects Peter Dual responded to the invitation and began to plan a program that would focus on relief assistance and incorporate academic work. Through his connections with the John M. Perkins Foundation, Dual made arrangements for the Whitworth group to collaborate with the foundation on recovery projects and stay at the foundation's guesthouse.
Program leaders are currently raising funds to support students' travel expenses and to support the organizations with whom the Whitworth group will be working. To make a donation, please contact Andrea Donahoe at (509) 777-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,400 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.
Andrea Donahoe, visiting professor of psychology, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4440 or adonahoe@whitworth. edu.
Gordon Wilson, associate professor of art, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4471 or email@example.com.
Julie Riddle, public information officer, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.