Squad Remembers Katrina Relief One Year Later

Friday, August 25, 2006

CHICKASHA – One year after Hurricane Katrina devastated thousands of homes, a team from Chickasha is gathering again to remember the parts they played in the relief effort.

Last October, the University of Science and Arts led a group of 18 students and staff members to Biloxi, Miss. to help hurricane and flood victims, with two additional trips earlier this year. On Aug. 29, the Community Service Squad is meeting in the USAO amphitheater in Davis Hall room 224 at 6 p.m. to relive the difference they made and rally support for future assistance from the community.

Diane Carroll, a USAO staff member of six years, has personal ties to the relief. Her parents’ community in St. Andrews was leveled by a 40-foot surge two miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The team’s first efforts concentrated on St. Andrews, a suburb of Biloxi.

“My parents lost everything in Katrina,” said Carroll. “Our first trip was taken less than two months after Katrina during Fall Break [last year]. Those students worked so hard and many times did not want to even stop to eat or get something to drink.”

Carroll is serving as emcee for the community event, and several guest speakers will give presentations and personal testimonies throughout the evening.

At the helm of the event is Mitch Schufletowski, a computer technician at the university, whose personal experiences with natural disasters piqued his interest in the Community Service Squad – and its reunion. Six years ago, his Fargo, N.D. home was destroyed by flooding after protective dykes were broken. He moved what little he was able to savage and, a month later, 14-and-a-half inches of rain within an hour once again caused immense flooding that destroyed what he had left.

“There were volunteer groups helping,” he said. “I guess [the Community Service Squad is] my silent way of saying ‘thank you’ to them.”

Schufletowski said he will show a video from past relief efforts sponsored by USAO to both give the students recognition for the work they’ve done and to raise awareness of the university’s role in assisting with natural disasters.

In all, USAO has sent three teams to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Adeel Siddiqui, the university’s network administrator, was one of the original 18 members of the Community Service Squad.

“It was one of those things that your parents tell you, ‘it builds character,’” said Siddiqui. “Well, it really does. We really felt like we made a difference in peoples’ lives, and we made a difference in our own lives.”

Erin Bass, president of USAO’s campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity, is slated to speak about future relief plans for the fall and spring, including a possible return to New Orleans over Fall Break in October.

“We’ve had a great year helping people,” Bass said. “We want to rally support for the Habitat for Humanity and the relief efforts.”

A sophomore in natural science and secondary education, Bass said that serving is nothing new to her.

“I’ve always done lots of community service at home, and it was something I really wanted to be a part of,” she said. The Broken Arrow native also said she hopes to get a Habitat for Humanity affiliate started for Grady County.

Guest speaker Dr. John Johnson, professor of computer science, will display a video about his artificial intelligence-based autonomous vehicle inventions and how they can potentially help with future natural disaster relief. Johnson has served as a Community Service Squad supporter for previous relief trips.

Schufletowski, who has attended all three Hurricane Katrina missions, said the meeting is all about generating public awareness, promoting community service opportunities and raising funds for future trips.

“These trips wouldn’t be possible if the students weren’t out doing the fundraising that they’re doing throughout the year,” he said. “Even if I could raise $10 at this, that would be $10 towards the 14 or 18 people who will go on these trips [in the future].”

Voluntary donations will be accepted at the door.

Schufletowski hopes that the event will inspire others to serve in their communities and help with future relief efforts.

“Like the Bible says,” said Shufletowski, “you help people out, you give God a break.”

Those interested in helping with relief efforts and other community service projects are invited to attend. More information about past trips, including photo galleries, is available online at www.usao.edu/news with a video link under “USAO TV.”