Editor's note: This is a special submission from LSUAgCenter NEWS, which covered Ohio State University hurricane relief efforts in Louisiana in December. For more information, contact LSUAgCenter Communications at (225) 578-2263.
BATON ROUGE, La -- What do buckeyes and tigers have in common? Most likely nothing, but when it comes to rebuilding the lives of hurricane victims, they are indistinguishable.
A group of 30 Ohio State University students arrived in Louisiana the week of Dec. 11-17, ready to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to clean up parts of South Louisiana ravaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Louisiana State University AgCenter agents helped coordinate the work of those coming to the rescue.
"The students arrived ready to pitch in wherever they were needed," said Mark Schexnayder, who heads the LSU AgCenter's Hurricane Katrina Task Force. "But before they arrived, I had been coordinating with our agents in several parishes so we could make their time most valuable."
Plans for the students' visit began in early 2005 when Dennis Hall, a advisor of Young Collegiate Farmers, which organized the Ohio State trip, and special assistant to the dean of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, made contact with Louisiana officials and said he wanted to bring a work crew down to help with the cleanup.
"One thing we hope that will come out of the relief effort is that students learn about the horrific devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita through personal experience of being there," said Hall. "I think that this is an amazing opportunity for our students to get up close and personal with probably the largest natural disaster to ever impact our nation."
Schexnayder said the visit fits well with plans LSU AgCenter officials are trying to develop for further cooperation of this type involving partners from land-grant university partners and others across the country.
The students worked in Washington, St. Tammany and Plaquemines parishes, as well as the city of New Orleans, and performed projects ranging from general cleanup to helping farmers rebuild fences.
LSU AgCenter county agent Alan Vaughn of Plaquemines Parish said it was amazing to see what these students were doing in this time of need.
"These students could be back in their hometowns enjoying their Christmas break, but they gave up a week of rest to come down here and work really hard," Vaughn said, adding, "We can't thank them enough."
Hall, who accompanied the group on the work detail, said some of the students had given up trips and others gave up jobs just to go down and help out.
"We have all types of majors represented," Hall said, explaining the majority of the students were agricultural majors but that the group also included those in early childhood development, English and art. "It just boils down to students who wanted to help out."
Jenna Genson, an agriculture education major at Ohio State, said she felt that the people of Louisiana needed her help more than she needed to be at home working to make money for college.
Genson and the other students like Laura Stacklin, who also is an agriculture education major, said they felt obligated to help out and that they hoped Louisiana students would do the same for them if their state's people were in need.
"I have never been involved in a relief effort, but I knew we could do a lot with 30 people working eight-hour days," Stacklin said. "We're putting in about 240 man hours of work each day for five days, so that should make a difference."
One of the places the students had a chance to work was at Green Thumb Nursery in Folsom, La, which is owned by Buster Mizzell. Mizzell, who recently made a bad move lifting some material and cracked a vertebrae in his back, said he needed all the help he could get.
"It would have taken me months to do the amount of work these young people did in one day. I'm just thankful for them," Mizzell said while looking over the nursery grounds. "I just hope, if they are ever in need of help, our people will go up and return the favor."
At the nursery, the students were dumping dead azalea plants, and they had cleaned and stacked over 18,000 pots in one day. They also performed tasks for others like picking up downed citrus fruit, cleaning up around houses and much more.
"The work is hard, but the feeling that we get from helping makes it worthwhile," Stacklin said. "Plus, Buster gave us a great lunch."