Most people spend their Labor Day lounging around, enjoying the last days of summer. But eight determined University of Mississippi students spent their holiday weekend lending a helping hand to our Louisiana neighbors recovering from devastating floods that struck the area last month.
Connor King, Kate Prendergast, Bailey Grace Elkin, Ali Roberson, Carlie Vowell, Elizabeth Weathersby, Shannon Hendricks and Shelby Loftis made the trek to Baton Rouge on Sept. 2 in a van supplied by Oxford-University United Methodist Church. Church member Ashley Allen organized the trip, with King taking the lead to get students involved.
Allen was a victim of flooding in northern Louisiana in 1991, so she feels a special connection to those who have lost everything.
“It’s not easy to get back on your feet when everyone who would normally have your back are facing the same devastation,” she said. “I have several friends who currently live in Baton Rouge and saw how desperately people needed help. More than a check written, they needed real, physical help.”
She understood the need and didn’t hesitate to organize the mission trip with the help of Ole Miss students.
“They were all amazing,” she said. “The houses were hot and the work was dirty and smelly and hard. Although we were all wearing masks, I could see that they smiled through the work. I never heard a complaint, but encouragement and excitement over the progress we were making.”
Loftis, a sophomore accounting major from Nashville, said it was important to her to help others in need.
“It is tragic when something of this caliber happens, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it,” she said. “I just wanted to help out in any way I could.”
The group brought wheelbarrows, shovels, pry bars, hammers, scrapers drywall saws, gloves, eye protection and filter masks to help remove flood damage to two Baton Rouge homes. As a team, the crew stripped drywall, pulled out appliances and removed nails, screws and damaged trim so crews can begin the rebuilding process on damaged homes.
“I had never participated in a natural disaster relief mission trip before, and as soon as I found out that OU was going to Baton Rouge to help with flood relief, I knew I just had to go,” said Carlie Vowell, a sophomore international studies and economics major from Martin, Tennessee.
“It is so important to help those in need because you never know when you could be the next victim of a natural disaster. Attending this mission trip allowed me to experience an atmosphere and circumstances that I had never before experienced.”
The students and participating community members were provided a place to sleep, shower and eat by the First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge during their stay.
“I felt it was important to participate in this trip because this was something that we could spend our time doing that would actually impact our world,” said Weathersby, a sophomore finance major from Greensboro, North Carolina. “Even though the wake of this disaster was so large and seemingly impossible for us to help, we were able to help a few people and make a difference for them.”
In two days of work, the team demolished two houses to prepare them for the next phase, Allen said. She added that she’s already planning to make two additional relief trips later this year.
“While those two houses are a tiny drop in the bucket of the work left to be done, that’s two families who got the help they desperately needed,” she said.