NOVEMBER 16, 2005

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Students spend fall break cleaning up hurricane mess


Heading to the Gulf Coast to help hurricane victims, a team of 25 students and staff at the University of Science and Arts challenged the community to assist in their cause. Students cleaned up storm-ravaged neighborhoods near Biloxi, Miss. From left are (front row): student organizer Beckah Wasson of Chickasha; Diane Carroll, academic affairs; and Adeel Siddiqui, computer network specialist. In the back is Lynn Boyce, chief information officer, who led the team nearly 1,800 miles in five days.

While others spent their fall break relaxing or shopping, a group of USAO students and staff headed to Biloxi, Miss., to help hurricane and flood victims.

And it’s personal. These 25 volunteers assisted in the cleanup of a Biloxi neighborhood that includes the parents of USAO’s own Diane Carroll, secretary in academic affairs. Their home and thousands more were completely destroyed in the August and September hurricanes.

“We had an extraordinary experience,” says Beckah Wasson, student chair of the USAO Volunteer Action Council. “This kind of outreach is life-changing, both for those received our help, and the college students who went.”

The group arranged housing with a church in Vancleave, Miss. Transportation and other supplies were provided by USAO and local grants and fundraising.

“This whole idea really touches me deeply,” said Diane Carroll, who joined the USAO staff in 2000. “That people care so much about me personally, and my family, is amazing. These kids are so wonderful. But of course they helped lots of families in Biloxi, not just mine, and that’s a noble thing.”

USAO volunteers spent most of their time in St. Andrews, Miss., a suburb of Biloxi that suffered profound losses. Carroll’s parents, who live about two miles from the Gulf of Mexico in an area that is not in the flood plain, were surprised by the 40-foot surge that leveled their community.

“They made it to safety, and they’ve found a place to stay with family while they are rebuilding,” Carroll said, “but they lost absolutely everything, including my mother’s new wheelchair.”

USAO students are reacting with heart, said Beckah Wasson, proudly. “Watching this on TV is overwhelming. It makes you angry and upset to know you can do nothing. But then, we realize there is something we can do. We can contribute more than pity. So we will contribute what we can give, which is our time.”

Watching students act with compassion energizes Mayes. “I love this,” he said. “When you give of your time, money and energy for charity, it makes you a different person. This is one of the best experiences you can get in college; learning to give instead of take. They will never be the same, I’m sure.”

Campus staffers who led the charge included Lynn Boyce, chief information officer; and Adeel Siddiqui, computer network specialist.

“This is a worthwhile endeavor,” Boyce said. “I have felt helpless in just sending money and wanted to be able to do more for people who need help in the Gulf region. When this opportunity opened up for me, it seemed like a great fit.”

Talking about helping people is not the same as helping people, Boyce argued. “I decided that for me, it’s time to put up or shut up. We invite everyone to pitch in and help or give.”

Since she came to USAO two years ago, Beka Wasson has made it her mission to lead others in charity work. She is president of the new USAO campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity and led a team of students to build houses in San Antonio during Spring Break this year. She was an outspoken proponent of the new city playground. As a result, more than 150 students, staff and faculty joined in that effort. Wasson gets her hands dirty for every charity she joins.

Contact: Randy Talley, USAO Public Relations, 405.574.1337