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Rallying to Volunteer in the Gulf Coast

Recognizing that the need is still great after Hurricane Katrina, more than three dozen Smith students passed up spring break beach adventures for trips to the Gulf Coast to help with relief projects, doing everything from cooking to gutting houses.

“It’s certainly not the most relaxing way to spend spring break,” offered Sara Barz ’06 before her departure for Louisiana, “but I’m looking forward to it nevertheless.”

“”It’s not about an obligation, it’s something I want to do,” added Christina Arrison ’06. “I think it’s especially important to raise awareness about the effects of Katrina. I also want to get more informed myself.”

Barz said she was awed by the total devastation in the New Orleans area and wanted to help people put their lives back together. “I think a lot of the inhabitants feel forgotten by various levels of government, and I want the Gulf Coast residents to know that they have not been forgotten by the rest of their country.”

Barz and Arrison are among the many students who have worked since last fall with the Smith Student Government Association (SGA) and college staff on various Gulf Coast relief efforts, making a big push to organize trips to the region this March. Some students traveled to the Gulf Coast under the auspices of such nonprofit groups as the United Methodist Church, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Mercyhouse Church of Amherst and Habitat for Humanity. Staff from Smith’s Physical Plant provided tools to many of the volunteers. A $200 per-student stipend came from the offices of the college dean and the president.

Earlier, in January, a collegewide committee organized a trip to Biloxi, Mississippi. Two Smith staff members and three students joined Visions of Hope in East Biloxi for a week of volunteer work there. Others from Smith have traveled independently as well. Smith President Carol Christ instituted a policy effective through May 30 granting Smith employees a paid leave of up to one week to participate in recognized Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

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