California students volunteer in Natchez

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 5, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; A concert at Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church today will salute two days of service to the community by students from Milken Community High School in Los Angeles.

The Zion Chapel Gospel Choir will present a program of spiritual music from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the church, corner of Martin Luther King and Jefferson streets, and the public is invited to attend, said Tony Fields, director of music at the church.

Some of the music students in the Milken school group will join the Zion choir for several numbers, Field said.

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&8220;I spoke with their music teacher and learned about some of the music they have been studying,&8221; Fields said.

One hundred students in grades 10 and 11, accompanied by 15 adults from the school, have worked throughout Natchez Monday and will again today, coordinated by United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou.

&8220;Their presence really gives a boost,&8221; said Kathy Stephens, United Way director. &8220;It is a wonderful service to our community.&8221;

Rennie Wrubel, head of school, said the Natchez trip grew from interest among students to provide help to communities affected by Hurricane Katrina.

&8220;Community service is not new for our students, but this project is new,&8221; Wrubel said. &8220;Students began to talk among themselves about what they could do, how they could make a difference, and they said, &8216;wouldn&8217;t it be really wonderful to be there and make a difference in people&8217;s lives.&8217;&8221;

The group learned about Natchez and the impact on the city and surrounding area by the thousands of evacuees who found refuge in southwest Mississippi.

&8220;We&8217;re a Jewish-based school,&8221; Wrubel said. &8220;These are mostly children who live very privileged lives. I can see already that this trip is having a positive effect on them.&8221;

Liat Yardeni-Funk, director of the school department where social action projects originate, said students continuously receive encouragement to help others who are less fortunate.

Students learned about Natchez through the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, the Deep South&8217;s summer camp for the Reformed Jewish Movement.

The Milkin group is staying overnight at the camp through Wednesday and then going on to the Gulfport area for one day of service there.

The school motto speaks of &8220;kind hearts and generous souls,&8221; Funk said. &8220;We want our children to live that out.&8221;

Members of the group chose from a list of possible activities to carry out Monday and today, including going to schools and social agencies to volunteer.

In addition to tutoring at the Boys & Girls Club, working at the Habitat for Humanity house, helping at Head Start and Sunshine Shelter, the students also spent Monday and Tuesday making purchases at Wal-Mart with $5,000 of the funds they brought for projects.

&8220;They are buying items and stocking the distribution center,&8221; said Stephens of the United Way.

The distribution center at the former AB Motor Co. building was used by United Way during the weeks after Katrina, is still in use and in weeks to come may become a permanent installation for a community food bank to be operated through the Natchez Ministerial Alliance.

Wrubel said the group hopes to return to Natchez. The connection has been a good one. &8220;Our work will not be done on one trip,&8221; she said.