Adventure that’s not ‘all about me’
Editor’s note: Aspen Times photographer Paul Conrad and reporter Scott Condon returned for a third time to Pearlington, Miss., this week. In the coming days, they will chronicle the ongoing recovery of this Gulf Coast community, which the Roaring Fork Valley “adopted” after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. Their trip coincides with a relief effort by students from Aspen High School.
PEARLINGTON, Miss. ” Sore muscles, itching bug bites and a glaring southern Mississippi sun haven’t been enough this week to sour 19 Aspen High School students about their goodwill mission to this hurricane-damaged region.
The students volunteered to come down during their Experiential Education week and put in hard labor in the on-going clean-up and reconstruction effort.
Ame Wang, a ninth-grader who lives in Basalt, admitted she initially questioned why she came here when they sat around a lot and toured ravaged areas on the first day. She experienced an instant change in attitude when they rolled up their sleeves and went to work at the home of Sam and Lyn Bailey.
Wang and five schoolmates helped the Baileys sort through a mound of belongings still sitting in their yard 20 months after the storm. They helped decide what to salvage and what to pitch, and simply whittle down a lifetime of collected material.
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“Then I realized they really need help,” Wang said.
Several of the 19 kids said spending time in Pearlington is showing them how easy they have it in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“It is such a good experience for all of us, especially those who live in Aspen, that little bubble of ours,” said Paige Thomas, a sophomore. “It’s like a Third World country down here.”
Kyla Sobieralski, a senior who lives in Carbondale, said it was rewarding to help people who have suffered so much disruption to their lives and are struggling just for basic needs.
“It’s like polar opposites,” said Sobieralski. “We’re spoiled up there.”
Sobieralski said she is considering some type of career in the military or a service organization. Her experience in Pearlington is reinforcing that direction, she said.
The students could have picked a much more adventurous type of activity for what they call “Ex. Ed.” Outdoor adventure is usually a big draw.
English teachers Cerena Thomsen and Sarah Strassburger volunteered to take a group to Pearlington because of their personal interest in helping with the on-going hurricane recovery. To their delight, 19 students signed up. Aspenite Tim Bean is along as a chaperone.
The 19 students break into three groups each day and go to different job sites.
Evelyn and John Carver needed a crew of Aspen kids to help paint the wrap-around porch on their sprawling, six-bedroom, three-bathroom home. They spent all their money on construction materials, so they cannot hire help.
“We’re done spent out,” John said. There is next to no local, state or federal government help, he said.
“If it wasn’t for the volunteers, you wouldn’t get anything,” Carver said.
The Aspen crew was painting Tuesday. Evelyn’s elderly mother made fried chicken and various fixings for the kids.
It’s nice to be appreciated, said Robbie Franklin, a sophomore from Aspen. “What little they have they’re willing to share with you.”
At the Bailey work site, Skyler Maclean, a senior from Aspen, toiled away spraying bleach on the interior of the house to prevent the wood from growing mold. Despite the tedious task, Maclean said he was glad he came.
“All my past Ex. Ed.’s have been all about me,” Maclean said. “Last year it was San Diego to learn how to surf. It’s good to give back.”
Sarah Schultz, a senior from Missouri Heights, said helping in Pearlington was her first choice for an Ex. Ed. activity. She said she has already found the experience “absolutely amazing” after just three days in town. She is considering working with the Peace Corps after in the future. She wants to be part of people helping other people.
“That’s the way the world should be,” Schultz said.