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UTC Students volunteer

News coverage of the effects of Hurricane Katrina has subsided, but 41 UTC students who could not forget the television images of people in need decided to offer help over fall break. The trip was organized and staffed by the UTC Presbyterian House on campus.

The group was offered free housing in the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gulf Port, Mississippi. The church was untouched by the hurricane, yet many of the surrounding buildings were severely damaged. The congregation decided that the church was spared for a reason, according to Amy Balmer Associate Director of the UTC Presbyterian House, and the decision was made to allow those working in the area to be housed free of charge.

Balmer divided the group of students into three teams, each working to clear homes of debris in Biloxi, about twenty miles from Gulf Port.

“The water line had gone up seven feet on those homes,” Balmer said. “If the homeowner was on site, we had a lot of interaction about what could stay and what needed to be thrown out. With each of the homeowners, we had a lot of interaction, and respected their decisions.”

Moldy floors, sheet rock, insulation, and kitchen sinks were all removed, Balmer said. Team members worked with masks, goggles and gloves to purge four homes, in some cases down to the studs.

“It was an incredible combination of brokenness and hope, destruction and restoration,” Balmer said. You could not see one without the other.”

Balmer said the students were often touched by what they saw, including notes, stuffed animals, dolls, and also by the stories the residents told. When the UTC group arrived, Balmer said the homeowners were very discouraged, but they quickly became encouraged by the help the group provided.

“We were all amazed at the strength of these people, and we wondered if we would be as strong in similar circumstances,” Balmer said. “

The good work begun by the group will be continued over spring break, according to Balmer. For more information, contact Jeff Fisher. Balmer encourages anyone who is interested to join the group. She says she realized how fortunate she was while helping others on the Gulf Coast.

“I realized that what we were doing at the worksite was someone else’s heartache. At the end of our trip, I got to leave, but this is their life.”

October 28, 2005

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