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You Can Help

Kid volunteers make a difference

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Volunteers help clean up homes in New Orleans.
Volunteers from everywhere come to help Habitat for Humanity clean up homes in New Orleans. (Photo: David Folch/GAMMA/NewsCom)

By Karen Fanning

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Arlen McQuigg refused to stand by as his neighbors struggled to rebuild their lives. The teenager immediately rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

“We went around and cut down trees that were on people’s houses and cleaned up their yards,” said the seventh-grader at Slidell Junior High. Arlen lives in Slidell, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. “I was running around town bringing tarps, nails, hammers, and wood everywhere.”

Thanks to the goodwill of young people like Arlen, residents in hurricane-stricken areas like Slidell are getting back on their feet. Still, one year later, many communities are still struggling to rebuild. America’s youngest volunteers refuse to let them be forgotten.

A City Still Hurting

Last June, IndiAna Seerley-Gowland traveled to New Orleans, hoping to lend a hand. She was shocked by the devastation she witnessed nearly 10 months after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city.

“It’s a complete ghost town,” said the 15-year-old from Tiburon, California. “You go through entire neighborhoods, and there’s nobody. I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was.”

Seerley-Gowland was one of 30 kids visiting New Orleans with the Westminster Presbyterian Church youth group from California. They came to knock down walls, ceilings, and insulation in several homes. They also had a greater mission.

“I just wanted to give hope to the families that lost everything,” said 15-year-old Michael Fearon. “I just wanted to show them that there were people out there who cared about them.”

An Unforgettable Spring Break

In March, a group of 60 teenagers from suburban Chicago headed south for spring break. Instead of bathing suits and suntan lotion, they packed tools and painting supplies.

The group spent a week in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and nearby Waveland. They gutted, painted, and repaired several homes destroyed by Katrina.

Their selfless deeds brought many grateful homeowners to tears. In exchange, residents treated the young volunteers to home-cooked meals and thanked them with bear hugs.

Mike Paull recalls their final job, just hours before the group left town. He and his fellow volunteers hung a tire swing for 6-year-old Andrew Lewallen.

“He didn’t know what it was at first,” said Paull, of Carol Stream, Illinois. “But he was sitting on it when we left. It’s part of the whole idea of hope.”

Blankets of Love

Hope is what a youth group from Westview Wesleyan Church in Jonesboro, Indiana, wanted to give Katrina victims when they traveled to Alabama this summer.

Besides cleaning up hurricane-battered homes, the group brought a special delivery: 10 handmade blankets. They hope the blankets will comfort Katrina’s youngest victims.

“We hope the blankets can go to families with children, so it will be ‘from our children to yours,’” said assistant pastor Mark Deisler.

A Can-Do Attitude

Back in Louisiana, Arlen McQuigg is happy to have been able to do his part. Kids, he says, have the power to make a difference.

“There are a lot of things kids can do to help their neighbors, like carry out tree limbs, help people rebuild their houses, and bring supplies in,” says the 13-year-old. “It will make them feel great because they are helping people.”

How You Can Help

Join Sunkist’s “Take a Stand” campaign. Kids from ages 7 to 12 can log onto the official Web site and enter a pledge to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims. Sunkist is donating free lemonade stands (while supplies last).

The Community Christian Concern is collecting school uniforms, school supplies, and donation checks for students in Slidell, Louisiana. Checks can be mailed to: CCC, 2228 Second Street, Slidell, Louisiana, 70458.


For more information, check out these related Web sites:

Katrina’s Kids

The America’s Promise Alliance is working with state and local officials to ensure that Katrina's Kids receive some essential resources.

Kaboom: Operation Playground

In December of 2005, Kaboom started a two-year initiative to build 100 playgrounds in Gulf Coast communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

For even more ways to help, log on to the Network for Good Web site.

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