Tusculum College was one of 39 campuses across the country to host the National Post-Katrina College Summit, a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the crisis in the Gulf Coast and to promote federal legislation calling for a New Deal-style program for the region.
Events on the Tusculum campus on Wednesday (April 11) included a public reading of the names of victims of Hurricane Katrina and a discussion by Tusculum students who have traveled to the hurricane-stricken areas about their experiences along with a showing of a portion of Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke.”
Students also conducted a petition drive to gather signatures in support of the passage of federal legislation to create a program that would create 100,000 jobs for Gulf Coast residents to rebuild their communities. The cost for the program, which includes job training, is estimated at $4 billion.
The National Post-Katrina College Summit was initiated by the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, which is spearheading the national effort to develop the legislation to establish the federal work program.
The need for such a program was expressed by Tusculum students and faculty during the discussion session on Wednesday.
Robin Fife, assistant professor of social science, has led three Service-Learning classes to the Gulf Coast area to help in the hurricane relief effort with the most recent trip taken earlier this year.
“It was the hardest work I have ever done,” Fife said of the relief projects she and her students have undertaken, including ‘mucking out’ damaged contents of people’s homes. “It was not just physically hard, but emotionally as well because we were taking the stuff of people’s lives out to the curb to be thrown away.”
She said that on one trip, the students met a lady in one neighborhood who is the only person who has returned to that area in New Orleans. “The city is not coming back, and now the insects, bugs and animals are taking over,” she added.
Sudipa Shrestha, who was in New Orleans in March, said she was disappointed to find that the government and large national organizations were not doing more to help people in New Orleans, but that the help was coming through smaller non-profit organizations.
Shrestha, an international student from Nepal, organized and led a group of 12 Tusculum students to New Orleans for an “Alternative Spring Break” in the first week of March. The students worked to remove damaged materials from homes, some so overtaken with mold that the students had to wear protective clothing and masks.
The students worked with Common Ground Collective. Common Ground was established one week after Hurricane Katrina and its mission is to provide short-term relief for hurricane victims and long-term support in rebuilding communities. It has hosted over 10,000 volunteers to provide relief and assistance to hurricane survivors, and contributed millions of dollars to the community through distribution of food, water, cleaning supplies, protective gear, tools, building materials, and volunteer labor.
Shrestha said the organization is student-oriented and provides both short-term and long-term volunteer projects for students. Working with the group, the Tusculum students had the opportunity to meet other college students from across the country, she added.
The “Alternative Spring Break” is the first trip of its kind at Tusculum College and had sponsorship from MECO Corporation.
The trip to New Orleans was among the latest service efforts by Shrestha, who is a member of the Bonner Leader student service program on campus and active in the local community, through both service and her academics. An accounting major, she gained invaluable experience through an internship at MECO Corporation last summer, and she has used the knowledge she has gained in the classroom and the business world to provide a needed service to a local non-profit organization.
Last January, Shrestha began working for the director of the Greeneville company’s Foreign Sourcing Department, which handles the company’s importing of supplies and exporting of products. She describes MECO as “one of the best places I have worked - the company has a family environment.” Through her internship, Shrestha said she learned about working in the global business environment with suppliers and customers from different parts of the world.
She has been able to use her business skills learned in the classroom and her internship to assist the Opportunity House. Shrestha worked at the Opportunity House once or twice a week through the summer and created a brochure about the organization and its services. This brochure has been sent to local businesses and organizations to raise the awareness of the services provided by the Opportunity House and help garner some much-needed support.
The Opportunity House Thrift Store, which provides financial support for the organization, moved locations during the summer, and Shrestha helped in the process of sorting clothes in preparations for opening at the new location.
As a Bonner Leader, Shrestha has also served locally in children’s educational programs as well as traveling to other communities such as Caretta, W.Va., to help others.