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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Countless Gulf Coast communities lie in the wake of Hurricane Gustav's path and are now in desperate need of rebuilding to help salvage the lives of thousands.

I must raise this question: Who will help these individuals who have been hit by a devastating hurricane once again?

Although we're not even close to spring break, students are already faced with an important decision to make: Cancun or Acapulco?

I remember from my undergraduate days as a member of the Greek community that there was always an unspoken pressure from my fraternity brothers to go to some tropical spot for spring break. While I know they had a hell of a time in Mexico, it never made sense to me to spend unnecessary amounts of money to get drunk.

When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, I was distraught by the constant barrage of images and sounds displayed on television. My thoughts sometimes weighed so heavily that I even considered dropping out of school to head to the New Orleans area in hopes of helping those in need.

I quickly came to my senses and realized that my role in helping hurricane victims was not immediately feasible.

I needed to see the situation for myself before I could understand how I could help.

The summer following Katrina and Rita, I visited New Orleans hoping to gain a local perspective. While there, I took pictures of the destruction firsthand.

Taking a tour into some of the harder-hit parishes, I realized the visuals in newspapers and magazines did no justice to what was in front of me.

Simply put, I was overwhelmed.

I vowed to come back to the Gulf Coast and assist with the recovery.

I scoured the Internet for spring break ideas and stumbled upon an alternative sponsored by MTV and United Way.

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Could I really spend my entire spring break with a bunch of strangers from around the country?

I wasn't immediately sure, but I applied anyway.

After receiving word that I had been accepted to participate, I reluctantly informed the trip's organizers that I would be attending.

I was utterly unaware of just how deeply the trip would affect me.

After a long day of rebuilding a Rita-ravaged house in the poor neighborhood of Lake Charles, I labored through a game of backyard basketball with the young boy who lived there. He just stared up at me with a simple, appreciative smile.

I will never forget that.

Growing up in a privileged neighborhood sheltered me from exposure to scenes such as these. My friends, who share backgrounds similar to mine, thought me an anomaly for spending spring break in a place free of beaches or bikinis.

They quickly changed their tune when I returned to tell them about the work I had done.

I went to Louisiana to give back to those who desperately needed the help of the nation to regain some sense of their normal lives. The work was painstaking, but the reward was invaluable. Our efforts put those hurt most by the hurricanes on the path to regaining what they once had.

I implore the UF student body to explore the possibilities of something other than the typical wasted-on-a-beach spring break next year. You might end up surprising yourself.

I know I did.

Daniel Seco is a first-year journalism graduate student.

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