Project Children Interns "Give Back" in Mississippi
“In late August 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It ultimately damaged 70% of all housing in the Hancock County area. As a result of this severe devastation, the Bay Waveland Area affiliate of Habitat for Humanity was formed in 2006, with the aim of combating this severe housing issue. Since then, the affiliate has built approximately 145 homes in Hancock County, with the help of more than 3,500 volunteers. This year, Habitat went even further with their „Blitz Build‟ mission, successfully building five houses in five days with 130 volunteers. Building through volunteerism has always been a key part of the work of Habitat in the region, with many groups returning annually.
However, giving back to the community had particular resonance for one group, the 22 students involved with the Project Children Internship program. As Denis Mulcahy, Chairman of the organisation explained, their involvement “is perfect for the program because the American people have given so much by sponsoring young kids, it‟s a way of giving back.” The Project Children program allows for a unique opportunity for over 40 students to spend seven weeks gaining work experience in their area of study.
This program relies upon the generosity of American host families in opening their homes to these interns. As volunteers, we found that giving back to the Hancock community created a powerful feeling of contribution, which only intensified as the week continued. This was due to the opportunity to meet with the homeowner herself, which was a strong incentive. The ability to talk and work with Monica made us realise the impact that this program would have upon her life. Whilst thanks and praise were never the motivation for the work, which the interns took on, seeing her gratitude and how much our volunteering meant to her, made the trip worthwhile.
This gratitude was not only evident through the response of the homeowners themselves, but also those of the wider community. Much like the host families of the Project Children program, the people of Bay St. Louis also opened their community to all of the Habitat volunteers. Throughout the week we were brought into their homes and treated like family. The ease to which they opened their homes to relative strangers was, for many of the interns, an example of the appreciation of the work that has gone into rebuilding this community. This provided the impetus to work that much harder to achieve their goal.
With the accomplishment of the „Blitz Build‟ many of the interns felt a strong connection with the Bay Waveland Area. Whilst we were only there for a week, we became immersed in the culture of that region. We not only got to know the people, and community of that region, but more fully understood the deprivation and long term effects of Katrina, and future problems that the oil spill will cause.
As a result of these major natural disasters, Mississippi will forever have connotations with impoverishment and hardship. Yet, programs like Project Children and Habitat remind us that through a commitment to giving back to the community, regions as disparate as Hancock County, Mississippi and Northern Ireland can be connected for generations to come, through Monica‟s new home.”
Ryan Roberts a History and English student, interning in USG LLC / International, Greenwood Lake, NY - Summer 2010