Lakers give back

GVL / Courtesy - Jennifer Lewis

GVL / Courtesy – Jennifer Lewis

Drew Howard

Instead of spending their spring break relaxing and unwinding, a group of Grand Valley State University students and faculty took the opportunity away from school to serve a community in need down in southern Alabama.

The service trip was run through a service learning class at GVSU, with the purpose of helping the Bayou La Batre community in southern Alabama with the residual effects still present today from Hurricane Katrina.

Alex Brizard, one of the 25 students on the trip, said Bayou La Batre is still experiencing the effects of the hurricane – despite the many years that have passed since it hit in 2005.

“It’s crazy to see how the community is still impacted by Hurricane Katrina,” Brizard said. “The reason we chose to come here is because it’s a poorer part, so they didn’t get the same attention as some other places did. New Orleans got a lot of coverage, but Bayou La Batre was hit as hard, if not harder.”

Students on the trip served the community by rebuilding chair ramps, fixing back porches, building new wheelchairs and working with underprivileged school children.

“I worked with this woman named Beverly who needed help rebuilding her back porch,” said GVSU sophomore Jenni Lewis. “You could barely walk on it, and if you walked on it long enough you would fall right through. We took off the entire flooring, made the foundation stronger and rebuilt that, along with railing and stairs.”

Lewis said she was amazed at the kindness of the Bayou La Batre community – more specifically the generosity of Beverly.

“The woman I worked with wanted to give us something back,” said Lewis. “She kept offering us food and beverages and anything that she could give to repay us. It was amazing to see how appreciative the people are, and how big of an impact we can make.”

Students on the trip also worked with Light of the Village, a nonprofit after-school program that promotes education.

“We stayed for a whole day with Light of the Village and got to help tutor students, do ACT practice and help with a clothing drive,” said GVSU senior A’Keydra Abrams. “The area we went to didn’t have a lot of support, and the people there were very appreciative.”

Abrams said one of the most impactful moments of the trip came at the end of the clothing drive.

“As the clothing drive was almost over, a kid came up looking for clothes but we had none left,” said Abrams. “You could see how sad he was, and it made me realize how big of an impact clothing is on the lives of these people.”

Brizard added that, while not all the jobs he got to do were very big, they were still important.

“Some of the jobs might seem trivial or unimportant, but when you see how happy and appreciative the people are, it’s all worth it,” Brizard said. “It’s really nice hearing stories from the people. Not everyone opens up but, when they do, that’s when the service learning comes in.”

More opportunities for service-oriented spring break trips, including ones with the service learning class, will become available in the following semesters.