A Persuasive Call to Action

USD student documents Katrina relief group during Intersession

Ocean Springs, Mississippi — a town of fewer than 19,000 people — is located at the heart of the Gulf Coast on the eastern shore of Biloxi Bay. About 90 miles east of New Orleans, Ocean Springs was anything but immune to the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. Census Bureau cites that in 2000, there were approximately 4,500 single-family homes in Ocean Springs, and a great number of them were damaged or destroyed in the wake of the hurricane. Despite the sweeping desolation, few national resources or aid groups rushed to help.

University of San Diego senior Jeremiah Young saw this near vacuum of aid four years ago, when he volunteered on the Gulf Coast as a relief worker. The next year, he returned to begin documenting the plight of the hurricane refugees. He wanted to shine a light on the victims who were either forgotten or ignored, using their stories to motivate others — especially those living outside the Gulf Coast — to lend a hand. Since 2005, Young notes, “There has been an almost exponential drop-off of volunteers each year after the storm hit. There are hardly any people coming back [to help rebuild].”

In his documentary film that he updates each year with fresh footage obtained from his travels in Mississippi, Young chronicles the uphill battle victims face as they try to piece their lives back together. The film has already proven to be a persuasive call to action. Young tells of a church group that opted to do its relief project in Ocean Springs after he screened the film for its members, even though they had originally planned to do a service trip abroad. They saw the grave need within their own country’s borders and were inspired to do something about it.

The church group participated in a relief pilot program designed by Bloom Projects International, a nonprofit organization specializing in research analysis and media projects, of which Young is founder and CEO.

“Bloom Projects focuses on building long-term, sustainable social development — building civil society from the ground up,” Young notes. “We come in and work with short-term organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders and supplement their work by allowing them to do the short-term stuff, while we try to build a foundation so they can move out.”

Essentially, Young aims to provide people with the tools and skills they need to help themselves in the long run.

Bloom Projects International’s partner in Mississippi is Camp Victor, which has rebuilt more than 600 flood-damaged homes in the region. Camp Victor can host 220 volunteers at a time, training and supporting them while they rebuild homes. Unfortunately, despite an infusion of $6,000 that Young and his team raised on Camp Victor’s behalf, the organization’s funding has run dry, forcing it to halt its construction. Young hopes to inspire additional donations by screening his film, which now includes emotional segments highlighting the last few homes Camp Victor was able to rebuild.

Given Young’s accomplishments and packed schedule as a full-time student, CEO, high school soccer coach and part-time worker to help pay the bills, one might expect him to be a little arrogant or self-involved. Instead, he remains humble, crediting many of his successes to the crucial support of his Bloom Projects team: Photographer/Videographer Michael Ko, COO and VP Allison Cullington, and Director of Research Kristen Conno.

Young also cites his education at USD as a source of inspiration for his service projects. He appreciates the administration’s willingness to work with his schedule and the quality of professors and the material they teach.

“At USD,” explains the International Relations major, “they teach you the right information in a way that enables students to use it today, tomorrow, the next day, and in whatever they want to do in life.” He sees USD as a nurturing environment that fosters personal growth through guidance and encouragement, with top-notch professors who care about their students’ success. “That’s what’s enabled me to make further strides than I ever have been able to within the last two years.”

— Jared Ruga ’11

To find out more about Bloom Projects International or to make a donation, click here

For more information about Camp Victor, click here.

Photo courtesy of Michael Ko