PAA Students Offer Hope To Katrina Survivors

June 01, 2007 | Liesl Vistaunet

Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) brought hope to a struggling community during spring vacation. Gale Crosby, school principal, his wife Sharon, who organized the trip, and Linda Neel, band and choir teacher, took 19 students to Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. This town is a small, poor community about an hour outside of New Orleans. There they worked alongside His Hands and Feet, a group of Seventh-day Adventist contractors with a mission to help rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The group was stationed at a "base-camp" with places for them to sleep, eat, shower and worship together.

The group was divided into teams, and each team worked on new tasks each day. Some helped box up treasured belongings from destroyed homes, others worked to restore damaged homes by drywalling and painting, and there were teams that simply spent hours collecting trash. "There was trash everywhere," said Neel. "It seemed endless and so depressing because it was stuff like photographs, clothing, dishes—stuff that had blown away from destroyed homes."

Besides the hard work, the team learned to become good listeners. "Our leaders taught us that it was OK if we didn't get a job done fast," said Sharon Crosby. "It was a priority to talk with the families we were helping."

One group of girls spent time encouraging a woman whose husband had recently taken his life. "Her name was Cindy," recalled Cara Butler, a senior at PAA. "We went to visit her about four times—but not to work. She was still too upset because it had happened just weeks before. She just wanted to talk."

"The continuing high suicide rates are a reminder that so many people there are still feeling hopeless," said Gale Crosby. "But, you know, as I watched our students interact with the people I realized they were not just there to work. They were there to restore hope."

Nearly 80 percent of all Katrina disaster relief is being carried out by faith-based organizations like His Hands and Feet. To learn about helping these organizations, visit