My trip to the Gulf Coast this past week proved to be both sobering and inspiring, educational and thought-provoking. Nearly a year and half after Hurricane Katrina, I was surprised by the contrasting landscapes in Biloxi- decadent casinos across the street from leveled lots still covered in debris, FEMA trailers and abandoned houses not too far from Walmart and untouched homes. Architecture For Humanity’s projects have made a significant impact, as has the work of Hands On Gulf Coast, whose 100+ volunteers welcomed me at their base camp on Monday.

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I had the pleasure of meeting with the Architecture For Humanity crew, including Program Manager Michael Grote and twelve architecture students studying for the semester in the Gulf Coast, learning what it really means to be an architect. I stopped by the site of the first model home being built, designed by Houston architect Brett Zamore. The re-interpreted shotgun house design is one of seven chosen as part of the Biloxi Model Home Program, working with families and the community to rebuild.

Architeture For Humanity, Biloxi, Biloxi Model Homes, Gulf Coast reconstruction, Hurricane Katrina relief AFH Program Director Michael Grote and AFH architecture students

Even so long after the storm, parts of Biloxi seem like a ghost town. I was interested to learn that more than 2 million cubic-yards of debris have been incinerated since the hurricane, primarily due to mold and health concerns. Many people are still in FEMA trailers, which will be taken back by FEMA this summer through the end of the year. But construction and renovations continue, thanks to the hard work of local citizens and the amazing amount of skilled and unskilled volunteer labor. Hands On Gulf Coast is working on a variety of local projects, from mold removal and gutting to youth tutoring programs. Despite the short duration of my trip, I’m glad to have done my part, seen the area first hand, and learned of the wonderful work being done to rebuild homes, communities, and lives. If you’re interested in volunteering, visit AFH and/or Hands On Gulf Coast’s website.