Give for the gulf 

In an extraordinary effort, the Armstrong Atlantic State University community has joined forces to help evacuees who have fled the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. That might not seem much different from the rest of the nation, which has opened its collective heart to victims in terms of donations and other support.

What makes AASU’s effort so unique is its scope. The comprehensive initiative will span an entire year.

Called Give for the Gulf, the initiative will address the needs of Gulf Coast residents as they exist now. But over the next 12 months, it will change and be modified as the needs of the evacuees change over the coming year.

One thing that will not change is the ongoing effort to provide support. The initiative was created by students, staff and faculty. They’re determined to do fundraising, collect in-kind donations and disseminate them, volunteer in community service operations and provide educational opportunities and discussion panels to raise awareness of hurricane preparedness and the changing needs related to disaster relief.

This collective effort began officially with a kick-off event held Sept. 21 at AASU’s Shearouse Plaza. At the kick-off, AASU President Thomas Z. Jones could be found cheerfully coloring a heart with crayons at one of the fundraising booths.

“I want to support folks in the Gulf,” he says,

Jones says the initiative has the full support of faculty, staff and students. “This is really just the start of a year-long series of activities,” he says. “There will be many other events.”

One of those events, AASU Day, will have a different focus than usual when it is observed next month. Jones points out that it’s important to help others, because, someday, the tables could be turned.

“We live in a hurricane-prone area,” he says. “At AASU, we’re a college community that comes together and addresses other people’s needs. Someday it could be us who needs help. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for us to help others.”

Several committees were formed to launch the initiative, including the Student Group Liaison, the Community Action LIaison, Public Relations/Promotion, Event Organizing, Donations and Accounting and a Discussion Forum committee.

Although the kick-off event was held for a serious cause, the activities were light-hearted. There was a cookout, plus live musical entertainment and other activities.

Numerous campus groups sponsored their own fundraisers. Samuel Kennedy of the AASU Rotoract Club, a student service organization for ages 18-30 that is affiliated with the Rotary Club, was selling raffle tickets.

“It was a terrible disaster,” Kennedy says. “People want to get involved. As a community service organization, the Rotoract Club felt it was important to do this. We’ll be doing more events like this in the future.”

The Department of Health Sciences is collecting diabetic supplies, such as glucometers, test strips, lancets, alcohol swabs and bandaids. These will be give to the Savannah Chapter of the American Diabetes Association for distribution to shelters that are in desperate need of these supplies.

“They really need diabetic supplies because a lot of people who were affected by the hurricane don’t have the money to get supplies,” says Lyto Marcius. “Some areas are short on supplies.”

Marcius says the diabetic supplies will be collected for at least six months, and probably for the next year. “We’re always collecting,” he says. “Whatever someone can give will help.”

So far, the response has been outstanding, Marcius says. “I’m amazed at the level of compassion expressed by the people who are donating items,” he says.

Dr. Michael Mink, an assistant professor in AASU’s Department of Health Services, says many people were lucky to get out with their lives, but lost their diabetic supplies in the effort. “There’s no access to a ready supply,” he says.

Some diabetic patients have a greater need for supplies than others. Also, the Gulf Coast has a higher percentage of diabetic patients than the national average.

“Some have to have these supplies on a daily basis,” Mink says. “If they don’t have them, it can cause problems, real problems. It’s very important to do this and get them the supplies that they need.”

AASU’s Lane Library is collecting children’s books that will be given to shelters throughout Georgia that are housing displaced children and their families. Books also will be sent to libraries that were damaged to help them rebuild their collections.

Chris Freeman, head of circulation at Lane Library, was manning a donation station at the kick-off. “We’re collecting children’s books primarily,” he says. “When we have enough books, we’re going to send them to shelters that are housing children who were displaced by Katrina.”

While books may not fill any medical or life-saving needs, they are important, Freeman says. “Those kids need some kind of escape,” he says. “After all they’ve been through and all they’ve seen, they need to have something that will take their mind off their problems for a while.”

A collection point will remain in Lane Library over the coming year. “It’s definitely a long-range kind of thing,” Freeman says. “The books can be new, used -- whatever we can get people to bring to us.”

The Inkwell, the student newspaper at AASU, is collecting toys that will be distributed to children who have been displaced by disaster in the Gulf. Chris Nowicki of The Inkwell says there’s a need to provide children with items that go beyond the basics needed to survive.

“These kids have been through so much,” Nowicki says. “There has been so much food donated, plus donations of basic supplies.

“We wanted to do something different, to address the needs of children beyond the basic supplies,” he says. “Their lives are really unstable at this point. And so many of them have lost everything, including their toys.”

The Inkwell is working with the Salvation Army to get the donations of toys where they are needed. “They know where the need is greatest,” Nowicki says.

Some fundraisers were designed to benefit everyone involved. The AASU Psychology Club sponsored a balloon darts booth that not only raised money, but gave participants on campus some relief from the stress of upcoming midterms.

The AASU chapter of the Student Georgia Association of Educators is selling T-shirts and food items to raise money. The money raised by that effort will be used to purchase school supplies for hurricane victims. Orders are still being taken for the T-shirts and can be placed at the AASU bookstore.

These were just a few of the fundraisers held during the official kick-off. Some events were held earlier in the month to raise money.

Many more events are being planned and will be announced later. That includes a silent auction that will be held some time in November.

The entire community will be invited to bid on artwork, merchandise, gift certificates and more to raise money for hurricane victims as the holidays draw near.

By the end of the day, about $5,800 in donations had been collected at the kick-off drive. There also were lots of books, toys and diabetic supplies donated.

“It’s been a fabulous collaboration between students, staff and faculty,” says Dr. Alice Adams, an assistant professor with the AASU Department of Health Services. “Everyone has been helping in any way they can.”

Amazingly, planning for the initiative began just two weeks before the kick-off was held. “We had great participation and leadership,” Adams says.

“A small group of us said we should be doing something to help,” she says. “We called a campus-wide meeting and from that, this all came together. The response has been great, from faculty, staff and students.”

The response to the kick-off was particularly heartening. “I think one thing that helped us was the variety of activities that encouraged people to participate,” Adams says.

The fundraising efforts will continue throughout the fall. Anyone can contribute, whether they are a member of the AASU community or not.

As the festivities of the kick-off wound down, Hurricane Rita bore down on the already battered Gulf Coast. Will AASU’s fundraising efforts be directed towards helping those victims as well?

“We’re meeting next week to discuss the steps in our next effort,” Adams says. “This is very much a team effort. We want to be responsive to the needs of all people in need, so we will definitely be discussing that.”

Discussion forums will be held throughout the coming months that will provide opportunities for public education about the disasters. “We’re also going to explore avenues for people to offer volunteer time,” Adams says.

“We’ll hold some meetings to discuss opportunities and orientation for volunteers. There are sometimes things that make barriers between those who want to help and those who need help,” she says.

“Potential volunteers sometimes hesitate because they’re uncertain about volunteering,” Adams says. “They wonder how long they will be gone and what they will be doing.”

Volunteer orientation will be one step to getting past those barriers. Adams says other campus-wide events will continue, such as car washes, bake sales, collections of supplies and other fundraisers sponsored by student, staff and faculty groups.

“It’s still unfolding,” Adams says. “There are a lot of wonderful ideas, and we want to hear them all.”

The AASU community is behind all of them. John Mitchell, AASU Director of Counseling and Referral Services, also found time to crayon a brightly colored heart at the kick-off event.

“We’re part of the community at large,” Mitchell says. “I feel this is an excellent example of what can be done to help.”

For more information contact Dr. Alice Adams at 921-7346 or visit

www.armstrong.edu/katrina. For information about the book drive, visit library/armstrong.edu/giveforthegulf.

Donations by check should be written to the AASU Foundation, with “Katrina Relief” written in the memo line.

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Linda Sickler

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