The media had long since moved on to other more immediate stories, while Gulf Coast communities continued to struggle to rebuild two years after the Katrina disaster. Demolished bridges, overturned houses and empty schoolyards, etched forever in our collective memory, still exist today. It’s the need for hope and the belief that better days are ahead in the lives of people that is most critical. In East Biloxi, with jobs scarce, opportunity lagging, and insurance claims slow in coming, crime and domestic abuse have risen 30% in the aftermath of the storm.
In May ’07, a group of U of M architecture students, led by Wynne and Paul, set out to design and build a pavilion in John Henry Beck Park. Working with city leaders, local volunteers, relief agencies, and school children, the group created the most coveted physical commodity in coastal Mississippi – shade. Now parents can comfortably watch their children in the playground without the need to duck under scraps of play equipment shade. Although the functional aspects of the pavilion are beneficial, our greater success came from the hope and relationships built during the process.
The students invited kids from the Boys and Girls Club to participate in the construction effort, placing their handprints in concrete pavers. The excitement of working with wet concrete was surpassed only by their delight, when they returned two weeks later, to find their prints in the finished pavilion. After three weeks of designing until 3am, pouring load after load of concrete, and building wood trusses by moonlight, our greatest satisfaction arose when we stepped out of the shade for the last time to make room for a mom and her kids.