Teenagers aid Katrina victims
Now that he's returned from Gulfport, Miss., Gary Lohkamp says he'll always remember the beer.
And the bar.
Because a bottled beer sitting on a bar was pretty much all that was left standing of Annie Lutz's restaurant and home in Gulfport, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Gary, 16, a sophomore at Centennial High School, says he and several other teenagers helped the elderly Lutz clean up broken glass and debris from her wrecked eatery.
'I figured I wasn't going to be doing anything much productive my spring break, so I figured I'd go and help,' he says.
Gary went there as part of a group of 32 Oregon high school student government officers and six adults, who made the journey from Thursday through Wednesday, March 22-28.
The Oregon Association of Student Councils organized the Katrina-recovery trip, according to Nancy Moen, the group's director. In addition to Gary, Liberty Pertiwi, 16, a junior at Gresham High School, and Lauren Mills, 17, a junior at Barlow High School, also traveled to Gulfport. Lauren was accompanied by her mother, Vicki, she says.
All three students brought back fond memories of the feisty Lutz.
'It was really cool that she wanted to keep trying, even though she was hit so hard,' Lauren says.
The Oregon group stayed in a Gulfport Catholic high school gymnasium, and worked on such projects as demolishing damaged homes, Moen said. Although they worked hard, all three teenagers said they enjoyed laboring in Mississippi.
'During spring break, I usually stay at home,' Liberty says. 'I thought it would be nice to go out and do something.'
Gary comments on how 'eerie' the Gulf Coast area looks, with the effects of Katrina's devastation still evident. All three students note that much of what they saw of Louisiana - where they landed in New Orleans - and of Mississippi still needs repair.
'A lot of it has been fixed, but a lot still has to be done,' Liberty says. 'It shocked all of us.'
The students also say they are humbled by the gratitude people in Mississippi expressed to them for coming.
'They were just so welcoming and fun,' Lauren says. 'As sad as it was, I loved hearing the stories they had of overcoming Katrina.'
Moen says the students inspired her with their enthusiasm.
'No one complained, and they worked hard,' she says. 'They said several times, 'We felt like we're getting back more than we gave.' '