Students return from Katrina aid trip

In the wake of disaster, UM students have made strides to support those whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. They have joined together to do everything from raise money and supplies to organize a trip of students to Biloxi, Mississippi.

Former Miami students, Peter Groverman and Armando Guttierrez organized the trip in a matter of a few days. The two met together, discussed what needed to be done in order to make the idea a reality, divided tasks and prepared for what would be a weekend they would never forget.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I just knew I wanted to go and that I wasn’t the only person that didn’t just want to write a check,” said Groverman.

Although the trip was not sponsored by UM, the trip was opened to students through facebook message, Instant Messages and word of mouth.

“My phone didn’t stop ringing,” said Groverman. “The response was incredible; everyone wanted to go.”

Everyone who showed interest and was able to miss classes on Friday met Thursday evening with little idea of what would be ahead. The 39 students were practically strangers when they departed, with most having some connection to either Groverman or Guttierrez.

“We didn’t have to turn anyone away,” explained Groverman. “Being a leader is extremely difficult. Thirty nine was the perfect number-if there had been anymore people it would have been a very different trip.”

Along the drive, the group received encouragement and donations. An Orlando resident who became known as “Dr. Dave” volunteered over $20,000 in medical supplies and his services.

“Fortunately, we turned out to be the first student group in the country to offer [physical] support to hurricane victims,” said Groverman.

The Mayor of Coral Gables, Donald Slesnick, gave Groverman and Guttierrez 7 keys to the city as tokens of appreciation for what they were doing. In turn, they gave 3 to the Salvation Army Captains and the other 4 were given out to one of the students on each of the 4 days that they were on the trip.

The group will continue raising money for the relief effort through an art show on South Beach featuring photos from their trip and a movie showing of the documentary filmed.

“As for another trip, my only concern is that it won’t be as good as the last one. What are the chances that you have 41 kids, some of whom never touched a hammer before, spend 3 days working their tail off, restoring these people’s lives, not getting a single scratch and walking away with friendships without a single fight? It won’t happen again,” said Groverman, “But do I want to go back? Yes, I will probably have another trip organized within the next 2 weeks and I have 40 names of people whenever I’m ready to go.”

Currently, the University is making preparations for a possible relief trip as part of the Alternative Spring Breaks. The Miami Hurricane will follow up on the progress as it develops.

Stacey Arnold can be contacted at s.