Students aid in campus clean-up
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 23:02
On Sunday at 5:03 p.m., an EF-4 tornado ripped through Hattiesburg and the surrounding area, devastating homes, landmarks and businesses, including the University of Southern Mississippi. Three hours later, a campus-wide, student led cleanup effort was organized on Facebook.
What started as a student interest group to help restore and rebuild campus to its original state quickly turned into a mass coordination group of not only student volunteers but also community residents.
Ned Nelson, a student who organized and created the event, said he did not think twice about creating the Facebook page.
“I just kind of created the page off the whim,” Nelson said. “We quickly went from 50, 60 to 300 members in a matter of hours.”
The group eventually had more than 900 members pledging to volunteer their hours to restore campus.
“Originally, we just thought we’d show up with a small group of students asking ‘how can we help out,’” Nelson said. “When we saw how quickly the group was growing, we had to brace ourselves, so we made sure to get approval from the university and go down the right avenues. We couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout and the genuine servant leaders USM has.”
The initial figures, which were released Wednesday afternoon, indicated a total of 940 people volunteered during the campus cleanup, 292 of whom were alumni and community members and 648 were students. Approximately 2,820 volunteer hours were logged, equating $61,447.80 in direct economic impact.
“Campus Cleanup Day” started at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning in front of the Theater and Dance Building. Students were required to sign in using their campus ID and sign a waiver form for liability and safety purposes. Wristbands were also provided to help designate which targeted clean up areas each group would assist.
Before the groups dispersed to their areas, incoming university president Rodney Bennett showed his appreciation.
“You should be very proud of yourselves for the way you have responded to this situation,” Bennett said. “This is our institution. It is going to succeed or fail depending on what we do and each of our personal commitments to its success.
Brandon Baker, a music education major, said he was amazed at how many students showed to volunteer, especially because of the holiday.
“I was helping the check-in process, and people kept coming in, making it such a non-stop process,” Baker said. “I am overwhelmed with the response of the students and the community who came out to join us.”
Fortunately, many students were home due to the Mardi Gras holiday break, so no injuries were reported on campus. To many, the extra storm day was looked at as an extension to their holiday break, but Baker said he and other volunteers put their focus on Southern Miss.
“People love this university so much,” Baker said. “We want to make sure that we are making this university better than we found it.”
Not only did students put on gloves and grab garden tools to help USM, they also went to Facebook and other social media outlets to express their love for the university.
“I’ve never been more proud to be a Golden Eagle today,” Ann Marie Chilcutt, a junior communication studies major, said. “This place is so much more than a school. It’s a family and a home. I really do love my Southern Miss.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Paul was overcome with emotion when speaking about the student body and their efforts.
“I’m about moved to tears,” Paul said. “Over 900 students helping, leaving it better than they found it. It’s an awesome day for Southern Miss.”