In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and has since been named the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
The UW-Whitewater chapter for the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity took an eight-day trip to Bay St. Louis, Miss., to help with building duplexes for the new community Seal Pointe.
Bay St. Louis was only miles away from the eye of the storm and it has been estimated that 70 percent of the homes in the area were destroyed or wiped away.
The 49 UW-Whitewater students and two advisors left for Mississippi March 19 and returned March 27.
The group began work bright and early Monday morning where they participated in many aspects of building a house.
Spring Break Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Katie Rozich said they were building the houses from the ground up and helping with walls, closets, floors, roofing, siding, painting and caulking.
Rozich, a senior, said she gained so much from the experience.
“You’re working with the community members and they are working back with you,” Rozich said. “It is a really rewarding experience because when you go onto a Habitat worksite you’re doing this work for a feature home one day; painting a living room where a family will play games one night, building the neighborhood where people will have cookouts and stuff like that.”
UW-Whitewater Habitat for Humanity President Chad Mork, who is a senior, had a similar experience.
“It’s so important to give back to the community,” Mork said. “Every trip has a different aspect that touches you. It’s my way of taking my spring break and doing the alternative spring break. You’re really making a difference in someone else’s life, and you get to open your eyes and broaden your perspectives.”
Halfway through the planning for the trip, the group also discovered that Bay St. Louis is Whitewater’s sister-city.
In 2005, Whitewater made a 25 year commitment to help the community in any way they can.
According to the city of Whitewater’s webpage, Whitewater has donated about $80,000 to various projects and 7,000 hours of labor to the area.
Mork said the students who participated this year were all committed to making a difference and they displayed incredible teamwork.
“A lot of students who went want to go back,” he said. “A lot of us left a piece of our heart down there.”
Rozich said how surprising it was to still see so much devastation.
“The people were so grateful that we still come down there five or six years later because I think a lot of people think it’s all cleaned up,” Rozich said. “You walk along the beach and you still see staircases to nowhere. It’s still really sad to see how much devastation there still is.”
Habitat for Humanity is currently working on building a house in Elkhorn. Construction is planned to begin Easter morning.
To donate to UW-Whitewater’s Habitat for Humanity, checks can be mailed or dropped off at the Campus Ministry Center at 344 N. Prairie St.