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Students offer helping hands to Pearlington

Scott Condon
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While high school students across the country plot spring break adventures to places like Cancun, the senior class at Colorado Rocky Mountain School plans a different invasion of a waterfront town.Instead of selecting an exotic locale, the class picked a devastated community. The 52 seniors at the private school in Carbondale have voted to spend a week in March lending helping hands in a southern Mississippi community Hurricane Katrina ravaged last summer.”Ninety-five percent of our class was hands-down, ‘Let’s go to Pearlington,'” said CRMS senior Beda Calhoun.Pearlington is an unincorporated community that Katrina slammed on Aug. 29. High winds and a wall of water called a storm surge toppled nearly all structures in the town.Carbondale fire department and government officials learned of the town’s plight and focused hurricane relief directly on the people of Pearlington. That inspired other people and governments in the Roaring Fork Valley to join the effort.Reignite the aid effort

The CRMS students figured that aid efforts might now be running out of steam six months after the storm, so they wanted to let the people of Pearlington know they still remember them.”It was kind of trendy and hip to go down after the hurricane,” senior Michael Chock said. But the devastation to the Gulf Coast has faded from the attention of the national media and, to some degree, the national consciousness.The CRMS students felt strongly that, through the sweat of their brows and strength of their backs, they should help Pearlington.”We could just raise a bunch of money and send it down, but the human connection is so much more important than signing a check,” Calhoun said.There’s no shortage of projects for them to undertake. Much of the area is still in shambles, with debris scattered everywhere. Fire department officials from Carbondale, who have been in Pearlington, suggested the students might want to help restore the area’s graveyard.Chock said providing direct aid is why the project appeals to many of his classmates. They realize they were fortunate to be safely in the Roaring Fork Valley while another part of the country endured one of the nation’s worst natural disasters. They want to see firsthand what the people of Pearlington suffered – and help with their recovery, he said.Civic and community projects are a tradition at CRMS. The week before spring break is known as “interim week” and reserved for seniors to undertake some sort of project. Often small groups of seniors will undertake something like volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Denver or pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity.

This year’s project is unique because the entire senior class wanted to focus on one project. (The seniors won’t actually sacrifice spring break. It starts the week after interim week.)Finances threaten plansThere’s a catch – money. Flying commercially down to the gulf area isn’t feasible for 52 students and four faculty members, said Dana Loebman, head of the school’s math department. So the school’s only real option is to charter a bus. That requires a $16,000 advance payment by Feb. 15.The travel plans are proving to be “daunting,” Loebman acknowledged. “It’s a pretty big nightmare, honestly,” she said.About 30 students raised $1,000 by working security during the X Games.Benefit concerts and art sales are also in the works. But those might not be enough.



Loebman said in a perfect world they would get some well-heeled resident of the Roaring Fork Valley to fly them down in a chartered jet or get one of the commercial airlines to fly them down and back.As an alternative, they could use a benefactor who cuts a big check for the chartered bus. Travel between Pearlington and Carbondale would take the better part of two days. Sandwiched between the four travel days would be four days of work.Loebman said she has little concern about logistics once the class makes it to Pearlington. They are prepared to sleep on a sports field by a school and cook camping food.She just hopes they get the opportunity.”The concern I have about throwing in the towel is we’re needed,” Loebman said. In addition, the seniors are champing at the bit to help. “The expectation is there,” she said.Any donors who can assist the project should call the CRMS administrative office at 963-2562.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com