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Ryan Piurek
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Monday, December 12, 2005

IU Bloomington students to provide hurricane relief to Biloxi, Miss.

Dec. 12, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- More than 200 Indiana University Bloomington students will embark early Saturday morning (Dec. 17) on a six-day trip to Biloxi, Miss., to help rebuild one of several Gulf Coast areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

One day after final exam week, several buses and vans will depart for Biloxi, where the 220 students will help remove debris from the area and clear out storm-damaged homes so new homes can be built.

"These students know exactly what they are getting into, and yet they still want to go and help," said Rachel Vilensky, one of the trip's student organizers. "They are giving up a week of their winter break to have an impact, no matter how small, on individuals and families in Mississippi."

The relief effort will be held from Dec. 17-22 and is being sponsored by IU's Community Outreach and Partnerships in Service-Learning (COPSL) program, the IU Student Association and the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center at IU. The students will receive support from the governors' offices in Indiana and Mississippi and the Hope Crisis Relief Network, which has arranged for food and housing while the students are in Biloxi.

The students, who raised funds to pay for their own transportation, have been educated on the effects of Hurricane Katrina and criticisms of the government's response to the disaster. (A PowerPoint presentation on how Biloxi was affected by the storm can be downloaded at Additionally, the trip's planners selected 30 student leaders, who will be responsible for maintaining the group's morale, planning nightly reflections and other activities, and setting a good example for those around them.

"There's been a lot of talk about and interest in 'civic engagement' and 'student leadership development,' but three students who came to my office independent of one another gave life to those lofty notions," said COPSL Director Claire King. "From an idea about 'a course with a climatologist, a sociologist and someone who could teach safety management with service' came a six-day, 200-person hurricane relief trip totally planned and executed by students."

IU Bloomington student Kathryn Schluntz, director of volunteer support at IUSA, marveled at how quickly the Biloxi trip has expanded since it was conceived at the beginning of the fall 2005 semester. "It was about five of us in the beginning and now there are over 200," she said.

Helping to organize the trip has provided Schluntz with meaningful experience in planning future volunteer activities, she said. "This trip has taught me how to use the resources available on this campus, specifically the ones available in IUSA. Just as a whole, this trip has been a great learning experience, and I can't wait until we finally get on the buses and start heading down to Biloxi."

Vilensky is equally thrilled to be part of the relief effort. "Everyone is just really excited to be given the opportunity to help out. We are all ready and willing to go down to Biloxi, with no makeup or perfume packed, and work all day long. We want to have an impact."

To learn more about the Hurricane Relief Winter Break Service Trip, go to

To speak to any of the trip's organizers, contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or