Sunday, March 18, 2007


Do you have any idea where you were March 13, 2006? Some might remember that on that evening there was a party near the Duke University campus at 612 N. Buchanan Blvd. As the majority of students were on Spring Break, some members of the Duke Lacrosse team threw a party.

Media reports indicated that there were adult beverages (even though all participants didn’t meet the “adult” requirement) and “exotic” dancers hired to provide the entertainment. The truth of what else happened that night is still in dispute, but, as we all realize, the “party” has had a disastrous impact on that team, Duke University, and the entire community.

I remember very well where I was last year on that date, for I was also at a “party” and both UNC and Duke students were with me. Our party involved a “road trip” (remember that great line from the movie Animal House?”) and it was a life-influencing party. Actually, our party was a work party, and our beverage of choice was water and I assure you that there were no dancers.

Our party was “Alternative Spring Break 2006” and students from the Lutheran Campus Ministry organizations at both UNC and Duke departed on March 10th to help with the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. We drove our vans to a camp on a church’s property in Ocean Springs, MS. The camp was overflowing with students and other volunteers from all over America, and everyone was there to do what they could to help.

Having seen the pictures on TV of the horrible devastation caused by Katrina, you think that you are prepared for the up close and personal view of the damage, but believe me, you’re not. When you see it, feel it, and smell it, your senses are overwhelmed. Just driving into Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast was shocking enough, but the drive around New Orleans exposed us to destruction unlike any that I’ve ever seen. We all commented about how little seemed to have been done in the seven months since the storm hit.

We organized our party of 31 into three work teams. My team’s first project was a home in Pascagoula, MS. Our homeowner was at work and we didn’t get to meet her until our third day. Talk about a party that tore the house up! That’s exactly what our party was all about. We removed the walls, insulation, cabinets, floors, bathrooms, and the kitchen. With our respirators and safety glasses in place, we literally “deconstructed the home,” hauled everything outside, and then cleaned and sanitized the surfaces with a chlorine solution. The black mold was everywhere and removing it as we had been trained made it a very undesirable party event.

It was dirty work and the heat of the day didn’t help at all, but slowly, the house got cleared and clean. The homeowner’s mother told our group several times that she prayed each night for help because the family had no way to do the job themselves. When we departed, she said that she didn’t know that there were college students like ours, adding that they could have been at the beach having fun, but here they were helping people they didn’t even know. Then, with emotion that affected us all, she said, “When you’re the answer to someone’s prayers, you’re somebody special.”

After finishing our first job, we went on another project and came to know another family that had also lost most of what they owned. Each of our teams had similar experiences with the same kind of homeowners — proud people who were determined to stay in their town and rebuild. We simply met great people, including all of the volunteers who operated our camp, cooked our food, provided technical assistance, and encouraged us when we needed it.

For me the highlight was getting to know the great students in our party. They worked untiringly and were selfless. They knew that they were doing something special but they all realized that being part of the work party was more of a growth experience for them. And just as I came to know these great young people, they made friendships that transcended any school rivalries. In their unity, they saw the power that acts of kindness have on people who have experienced tragedy and extreme loss.

So when you think about students and their parties, remember these students and their party. They were so inspired and moved by the first work party that they wanted to do it again. So the day after graduation in May, we went back. You can never completely replicate a good party but the second trip came incredibly close. Overall, parties that help people are a good thing!

Previous columns are available at <>

No comments: