Aug. 29, 2012

Shaping Lives of Purpose: Geneseo's tradition of hurricane recovery

Katrina rebuilding.

Alanna Klose '10 and Jessica Tornatore '12, bottom, tear rotten shingles off Mary Jackson's home in Biloxi, Miss., during one of the 25 work trips to help residents recover from Hurricane Katrina. Three more volunteer trips are scheduled for 2013. /PHOTO BY KRIS DREESSEN




Seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Biloxi, Miss., is one of the areas still recovering as Hurricane Isaac pounds Mississippi and Louisiana. Geneseo will be there to help residents, as the college community has done since winter 2006.

Even before Isaac made landfall, Livingston County CARES was preparing for three upcoming volunteer trips to help rebuild homes in the Biloxi area this January, March and May. Volunteers are welcome to sign up.

"It's hard to imagine that the people on the Gulf Coast are facing another potential disaster, but one thing I have observed on our numerous relief trips to the area is the amazing resiliency the residents display there," said Tom Matthews, Geneseo's associate dean of leadership and service, who coordinates the trips through the college's Center for Community. "Many of us wonder how they can stay in that area and endure the threats of these massive storms, but it's their home and we're pleased to help them face what comes their way as best we can."

So far, more than 700 volunteers — students, faculty members, staff and members of the community — have been on 25 trips and have renovated more than 60 homes. They work in teams and live in housing with volunteers from all over the United States and world. Students who participate can also earn service-learning credit and fulfill GOLD civic engagement requirements through their service

Geneseo's commitment to the Gulf Coast is a shining example of the college's mission to shape lives of purpose and to give back. Shaping Lives of Purpose: The Campaign for Geneseo is strengthening such opportunities through academic innovation and faculty support, student scholarships, global education, The Fund for Geneseo and athletics.

It is this commitment to serve others that makes alums like George Sullivan '07 proud. Sullivan is a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State in Egypt. The Livingston CARES program, he says, "is a reminder of Geneseo's focus on both academic achievement and service. My experience as a volunteer on the college's first work trip to Biloxi reinforced these values and enabled me to establish rewarding connections between my learning in the classroom and service in the community."

Helping Gulf Coast families and learning about the storm impact on a deeper level stays with volunteers. Two-time volunteer Bennett Marano '12 grew close to his fellow volunteers during the trips and was changed by the experiences.

"The volunteer opportunities helped me to build life-long friendships, and more importantly, a re-evaluated perspective on life and all of those little things we take for granted," he says.


View a video of President Christopher C. Dahl on site in Biloxi when he accompanied students in 2011.
View a photo essay documenting Geneseo's recovery efforts from the summer 2011 Geneseo Scene.