Melissa Spynda ’07

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Pittsburgh native Melissa Spynda ’07 has a big responsibility. She is trying to raise $50,000 to support the future of Camp Salvage, a Katrina recovery volunteer camp in Waveland, Miss. Camp Salvage houses mainly teenage and college-age volunteer groups from around the country and puts them to work rebuilding homes and visiting residents.

But Katrina recovery? Isn’t that done yet?

“I’ve heard that before,” commented Spynda (pointing at right in white shirt), who is currently working as a long-term AmeriCorps recovery volunteer at the Waveland Volunteer Center, “…from people who haven’t been here.”

The third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up in August, and most of the country has forgotten the struggle. Unless you have been to the Mississippi or Louisiana Gulf Coast to volunteer, it is hard to imagine that many residents’ futures are still uncertain. But they are; especially in Waveland, a small town located about ten miles from where the eye of Katrina made landfall. There wasn’t a single structure left standing or undamaged in Waveland or neighboring communities when Katrina’s winds, sustained between 120 and 145 mph with gusts up to 200 mph, tore through the area.

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Coleman Ave used to run through the main downtown area of Waveland. The photo at right shows what remains three years later.

“Imagine—not just if the whole city of Pittsburgh was destroyed, but the hundred miles around it in both directions. Penn Hills, Monroeville, Fox Chapel, Valley and Oakmont. And when you return to your home, it’s gone, and so is your neighbor’s home, and her neighbor’s home, and your local grocery store, and the next town… How do you recover from that in just a few years, physically and emotionally? How does the community and economy recover?” asked Spynda. “There is a lot left to do.”

Spynda grew up in Plum Borough and attended Plum Borough High School. She is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a major in Child and Family Studies. Her parents, Peter and Sandra Spynda, still live in Plum Borough today.

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Left: Volunteers working on a foundation for a home in Waveland. Many homes must be elevated off the ground because of the potential for flooding.

Spynda and the staff at the Waveland Volunteer Center are acutely aware that much more than rebuilding is needed in Waveland, particularly in the area of their main volunteer demographic: teenage youth.

“Since the storm, there is very little outside of school for teens to do,” said Betty Patecek, head of the City of Waveland Public Relations Office. “The drop-out rate is 27 percent. But we know we have great kids here. We just need to engage them and give them a safe space to spend their free time and get involved with the community.”

spynda4In light of such ideas, the Waveland Volunteer Center is looking to move to a new venue and create a 501c3 to provide a Youth Activity and Volunteer Center to Waveland. The concept is to bring national volunteers, local youth, and community recreation and revitalization programs together under one roof.

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“Involving local teens with national teen volunteers is a perfect match for developing leadership and community engagement,” said Spynda’s co-worker, Brian Alexander. “It will also provide emotional support for the community.”

Spynda and the staff at the Waveland Volunteer Center are trying to raise $50,000 to boost current operations at the Waveland Volunteer Center and help jumpstart future youth programs. They are seeking donations, investors, and, of course, volunteers of all ages and skill levels for the spring and summer season.

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“I want people back home to see this,” said Spynda. “This community still needs us.”

To volunteer or donate, contact Erin Taylor at 228-467-5122 or waveland.volunteers@gmail.com. Follow the camp’s progress at www.wavelandcity.com/volunteers.htm.

And remember, it’s not over yet.

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The Waveland Volunteer Center, also known as Camp Salvage, is a one-year-old Katrina volunteer camp. It was formerly associated with the City of Waveland and worked to engage national and local volunteers in the rebuilding of homes and lives in the Hancock County, Miss., area. The Waveland Volunteer Center volunteers focused both on physical rebuilding and emotional needs of Katrina-affected areas. The Waveland Volunteer Center is currently seeking its own 501c3 status as a Youth Volunteer and Community Engagement organization.

(Waveland Volunteer Center press release, 4-22-08)