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Hands of Ghandi Work Onward

A pledge to aid New Orleans resident drives service group south

By Benito Nieves
On April 9, 2012

  • Dr. Dawood Farahi, president of Kean University, delivered his opening address in Wilkins Theatre on Wednesday, September 2, 2009. Steven Solares

While some "soaked up the sun" in relaxation during this year's spring break, a few student volunteers of the Be The Change service group were participating in the group's fifth philanthropic venture south. From March 16 to March 25, eight students joined group advisor, Dr. Norma Bowe, to destination New Orleans; and in congruent fashion to previous trips, the group made some service stops throughout.


One of those stops was Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Since the 2011 tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa communities, Be The Change efforts to aid have been in motion. The group delivered clothing, footwear, food, and other living necessities to a church in the community. The church itself, like other structures in the surrounding area, was in shambles with only erected tables to collect and disseminate donations.


In the wake of the now infamous 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf, Be The Change initiated a week-long summer journey in to southern states in an effort to aid the animals, beaches, and communities impacted by the spill. Now, almost three years later, the group finds itself regularly returning to the journey, each time revisiting a past mission, as well as adopting new ones along the way.


This time, the group sought to address a pledge they made almost two years back. After their first Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts with the citizen-leaders of the United Saints Recovery Project in Louisiana were complete, the group walked the community to witness homes still in ravaged conditions. Among those homes was that of Arthur Booker.


Booker's story of his life, loss, and current state of living deeply moved the present members of Be The Change. The damage of his home was so severe that the entire interior was visible from one side. Structurally, conditions were and still are not safe for Booker to live in his home. Keeping to their pledge, members of Be The Change, without the aid of other community repair organizations - whom have moved onto other homes with exterior damages - brought tools and high spirits to continue work on the structural conditions of the home.


The students who participated in the service efforts for this fifth trip are: Curtis Abankwa, freshman physical therapy major; Rebecca Bowe, senior theater major; Chris Fellenz, sophomore criminal justice major; Augustine Gonzalez, senior psychology major; Elissa Hyer, senior biology major; Chris Lauda, senior psychology major; Nicolette Maggio, 2010 Kean alumna; and Chris Smith, senior psychology major.


An additional stop made at Long Beach, Mississippi, provided the service group with additional oil samples from post-BP spill beaches. The group's findings and investigative work has been featured on The Huffington Post and The group has been using the samples to document any differences that may occur overtime.


An anticipated next service venture may lead to the group to South Dakota where they plan to visit the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A proposal for this trip is currently in the works. Part of the motivation behind aiding this community is the startling unemployment rate of the community - over 80 percent, a dynamic leap from the national average of 10 percent.

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