"...'When we were picking up the stuff in their yard,' Ratchford said, 'it was as if I was walking on their lives. Their stuff was scattered everywhere. I saw wedding pictures and their kids' clothes. It was hard not to cry'..."
by Caroline Catlett, Senior Journalism and Mass Communication Major
"Twas grace that brought me to this place and grace shall lead me home." Amongst the rubble and debris, Education major Brooke Ratchford found these words in front of what used to be someone's beachfront home in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was one of 180 Samford students who dedicated their fall breaks to hurricane relief in October.
For Ratchford, it was an experience far beyond physical labor. "It was very eye-opening to me. I was reminded of how unimportant material things are and how much relationships really matter," she said.
Under the leadership of Special Education professor David Finn, Ratchford and 11 other students worked on four different homes in Pascagoula and kept busy by cleaning up debris, ripping out ceiling tiles and putting in new insulation. "They had such incredible teamwork," Finn said. "No one questioned what to do. They just found work and got it done."
The student team spent one of their workdays at the home of Finn's friends Laura and Ken Branch. The couple had been just days away from completing extensive renovation of the house when the storm hit. They returned to find all of their possessions stripped out of their house, leaving merely walls and a roof. "The Branch's home was completely gutted," Ratchford said. "Their possessions had been pushed out of the house and most of their stuff was in the backyard. It was hard to even see the grass."
The team took on the task of cleaning up the Branch's backyard and carrying the water-damaged items to the street for the city to pick up. "When we were picking up the stuff in their yard," Ratchford said, "it was as if I was walking on their lives. Their stuff was scattered everywhere. I saw wedding pictures and their kids' clothes. It was hard not to cry."
"I remember seeing Laura and Ken and thinking there's no way this is the couple who lost so much," Ratchford added. "There was nothing left in their house and yet they had smiles on their faces. I can only hope that I would have the same kind of attitude after something so devastating."
Ratchford said that, despite their loss, many of the residents throughout the community seemed to share the Branch's positive outlook. "Some of the people we met there were left with nothing and yet it seemed like they had everything. They were so joyful despite their loss and it was obvious they had hope for the future."
One of the most shocking experiences Ratchford recalls was when the team drove to see the beachfront homes. "When we got to the beach I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was so weird to see that there was nothing left of these homes. They were just bricks lying on the ground. We saw clothes in trees, pictures all over the ground, pretty much anything you could think of being in a house was somewhere on the ground".
Even in the area that suffered the most devastation, there was a sense of hope, Ratchford said. "One sign we read that was sitting in front of what is now simply rubble said, 'Don't let Katrina steal your joy.' And that's exactly how the people of Pascagoula are living--joyfully."