College hurricane relief efforts focus on Biloxi

by Rebekah Rombom | 10/17/05 5:00am

After a week-long visit to Biloxi, Miss., one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, Tucker Foundation Dean Stuart Lord and Katrina Help student coordinator Nick Taranto '06 have devised a plan to offer support and relief to the community over a two-year period.

"This is not a one-time fix," Lord said. "We plan to go back there in several other ways as we learn what the community needs."

Taranto, whose senior fellowship will tie into the work he is doing in Biloxi, went there last week and spent five days meeting with local officials and members of the community. Lord joined Taranto for the next two days, acting as a representative for Dartmouth and finalizing Taranto's decisions and plans.

Biloxi was chosen as the location for a winter interim Education and Service Corps trip -- and subsequently for Taranto and Lord's trip -- because locals there feel that the national media has largely ignored the city.

"Right now we felt that with our limited resources, that Biloxi was a good place to start," Lord said.

According to Taranto, he had about 25 meetings in the first five days of the trip. One of the main goals of the meetings was to formulate a plan of action for the service trip, when a group of Dartmouth students will go to Biloxi during winter interim and continue the relief effort.

Last week's trip was essential, Lord said, in ensuring that the students who travel to Biloxi this winter will have the greatest impact in the areas that need the most help.

"You don't just show up to work," Lord said. "Spending a week is building trust, making connections and making sure at the end of the day that we've added value to this community."

The trip this winter will have five components: housing advocacy, oral history compilation, a resume-building workshop, a construction crew and an elementary arts program for third and fourth graders.

The idea for the elementary art component came out of a meeting Taranto had with a superintendent in Biloxi, where two elementary schools were completely destroyed. The students from those schools are now attending classes in areas that were less affected by the hurricane.

"It's traumatic, to say the least," Taranto said of the students' experiences. "I think this art project will be huge in alleviating some of that post-traumatic stress."

The projects, which are different from those of many other relief groups who deal solely with clean-up and construction, aim to utilize resources from Dartmouth that may not be available to other relief workers.

"This [project] is much more organized around our intellectual resources," Lord said. "Clearly that's different than what Tucker's done before. We're motivated by our intellectual capital."

Lord and Taranto hope the assistance the Dartmouth community will offer will be unique.

"No one's approaching it from the systematic point of view that we want to take, that I'm aware of," Taranto said.