Volunteers help out around town

Published 12:25 am Saturday, March 8, 2008

NATCHEZ — Early this morning, a van load of community service and good will pulled out of Natchez and headed back to Virginia.

Last Sunday the same van load rolled into Natchez filled with eight bright young women from James Madison University, the girls had only one goal in mind — spring break.

As part of the university’s alternative spring break program, the girls elected to partake in a week of community service rather than the traditional beach bumming.

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On Wednesday afternoon, the girls took a well-deserved break from doing various maintenance projects at Community Chapel Church of God.

Sitting under the awning, the girls rested in the shade before leaving for lunch.

Sara Bordeaux, a student coordinator with the program, was on her third such service trip.

“We get to see so many different situations,” she said. “It’s actually educational.”

During their tour of service in Natchez, the group spent an afternoon at the Sunshine Shelter working on a myriad of projects.

Shelter director Matilda Stephens said the work done at the shelter improved both the structure of the building and the morale of the children.

The sunshine shelter houses children who cannot be kept by their guardians.

“They did a phenomenal job,” Stephens said.

Stephens said the girls painted bedrooms, added a mural to one wall and provided tutoring for the children.

Volunteer spring breaker Amanda Phillips said her work at the shelter was personally uplifting.

“We all benefited from our time there,” she said. “It was symbiotic really.”

Stephens said the children at the shelter got a real boost from the one-on-one time they got to spend with the volunteers during the tutoring sessions.

In fact, Stephens said most of the children got to enjoy the company of two tutors.

“That’s rare for us,” she said.

The group also found time to work with the Red Cross while they were in town.

Red Cross chapter manager Angie Brown said the girls took on a major project.

“They reorganized the entire shelter trailer,” she said. “Those eight girls worked very hard.”

The trailer Brown referred to is actually the container portion of an 18-wheeler, that stores the Red Cross’s emergency shelter equipment.

Brown said it had not been cleaned or inventoried since Katrina.

“It was a massive job,” she said. “And they did an amazing job.”

Brown said it took the team of volunteers a full day to inventory and reorganize the trailer.

First-time volunteer student Christie Whitehead said she was glad she decided to head south for spring break.

“It was fun in a different way,” she said.