Classmates Rebecca Ricketts Yarbrough '75 and Emilie Gardner '75 held their collective breath as Hurricane Gustav made its way to the Louisiana coast in September 2008. Rebecca remembered seeing the news footage back in August 2005 of Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Miss., which were near ground zero of Hurricane Katrina's landfall. Category 3 winds and a 37-foot storm surge washed away thousands of homes, businesses, and churches, killing more than 50 people. All that was left of Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis was a fragment of the bell tower.
"I saw all this on TV, but it didn't hit home until I went down there in January 2006 to begin a partnership between several Charlotte churches and Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis," Rebecca says. "There were no houses, no utilities or street signs, and barely any streets. Nothing but wreckage covered the land from the coast to well past I-10, miles inland."
On that first trip, Rebecca shoveled muck and hauled debris, and made plans for her next trip ... and the next. One day she was talking with Emilie, her roommate from their days at Queens, who chimed in, "I'd like to go!" They've since been on two trips together, arriving early to organize jobs for a larger group of volunteers.
Emilie has put up siding on a house for a man with throat cancer, hung cabinets for a family with foster children, and ripped out moldy bathroom ceilings so a terminally ill man could have indoor plumbing. Rebecca has hauled debris and supplies, painted, fixed scaffolding, and done trim carpentry. The "Carolina Connection," a name coined for the group, has so far made 11 trips to help with Christ Episcopal Church projects in Bay St. Louis.
Now there is electricity, water and sewer, and less debris. Some people have rebuilt, and, Rebecca says, "It's a joy to visit them in homes we helped build. But there are still too many FEMA trailers and Katrina cottages, many of which flooded during Gustav." As news reports continue to show, many families haven't received insurance settlements, and others have gotten only a fraction of the cost of rebuilding.
Rebecca and Emilie remind us that there is still plenty of opportunity to make a difference by modeling Queens' motto "Not to be served, but to serve" long after graduation.