Hannah Cohen-Cline spent a week this past January in east Biloxi, Miss., putting roofs on hurricane-damaged houses.
Cohen-Cline was part of a Brandeis Hillel team that joined a larger group from six other Hillels and some church groups.
In a long e-mail she wrote to friends and family earlier this year, Hannah described the disturbing scene at the beach.
'The sand is completely covered in people's personal items. The water is also filled with things from houses, and debris and tree limbs, for about four miles from the shore.
'It was the little things that got to me,' she added. 'Amid all this rubble'was a pillow with one of the dogs from Disney's 101 Dalmatians on it. In another area, there was a little Muppet doll sitting by itself, no one had even claimed it yet.'
No one in the youth groups had any experience in roofing, but they received a few hours' training the Sunday they arrived.
'Many of them had never used a hammer,' she explained of her co-workers, 'which was why I found it quite impressive that'five days later, we had put on 10 new roofs.'
Meeting local residents was one of the best parts of the experience, Cohen-Cline reports. She got a tour of one person's house, 'completely covered in iridescent yellow mold.'
Representatives of various organizations spoke to the group each evening, including FEMA and the non-profit Hands On USA, which provides construction services and sprays for mold.
'Surprisingly few organizations are spraying,' says Hannah, ''[T]his is really important because the owners can't move into their houses until they've been sprayed,' and spraying can't begin until a house is roofed, making it one of the most important reconstruction tasks.
Following the presentations, Cohen-Cline's group, 'in true Brandeis fashion,' would have Torah study focusing on tzedakah, righteousness, justice and mercy.
The students mostly fell into bed exhausted after their long days, but one night some of them visited Biloxi's one remaining working casino. None were old enough to gamble, so they didn't stay long, but did manage to convince the house band to play 'Hava Nagila.'
'I thought it was a fitting way to end the week, dancing to 'Hava Nagila' played by an African American southern blues group in a casino in Mississippi,' she wrote.
The Garfield High School graduate just finished her sophomore year and is home for the summer. She is enjoying school and plans to major in biology.
Hannah closed her e-mail with a quote from a local pastor who addressed their group.
'You hear a lot of people talking about how this was an act of God. Well, Katrina wasn't the act of God. The act of God is what all of y'all are doing right now.'
Art therapist Rebecca Bloom has developed a worksheet to help people with career decisions, which she is using in her private practice.
'I ask them a series of questions,' she explains, 'starting five to 10 years in the future and working backwards.
'It gives them a chance to dream, to think about work they actually want to be doing.'
Bloom, a Seattle-based, board-certified art therapist with a Masters from Pratt Institute, was a student of art and women's studies as an Evergreen College undergrad. Her interest in counseling stemmed from her work as an HIV educator in Seattle in the mid-1990s. After seeing clients chronically repeat harmful behaviors, she wondered how long-term change happens.
'It takes people being invested in their future,' she says.
She uses art in her therapy practice, but clients don't need to worry that she will 'make' them draw. Her patients 'are either drawing their ideas or writing lists,' she told me. 'People get intimidated that I want something perfect, but it's more about the process. It's safe and fun and non-threatening.'
Bloom, originally from California, spent many summers at the Jewish Camp Tawonga. She also teaches art therapy at Antioch University, where she uses the career worksheet with new art therapy students.
In her private practice, the worksheet is used mostly by those in their 30s and 40s, people changing careers, looking to use their skills in a different field.
'What's best is when people can take the sheet and share it with their family and friends,' she says. 'When they let people know what their dream is, they find a lot of people they know can help them get to their goal.'
For more information and to contact Rebecca, visit www.bloomcounseling.com.
I've had the pleasure in recent weeks of dining with two wonderful groups. I attended a Brandeis University Women's lunch, at which Sylvia Azose Angel was honored. This group supports Brandeis libraries and work study students and is helping to fund a neurological diseases laboratory. They have a variety of intelligent programs in the area and are always looking for new members (and you don't need to be an alum). Call Sylvia Hayden at 425-746-7638 for information.
I also lunched with the venerable Jewish Club of Washington, where they kindly let me talk about myself! The club was founded over 60 years ago to assist refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and is now a social club, meeting every other month on Wednesdays. All seniors are welcome to join. For more information call Walt Oppenheimer at 206-381-1338.