Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2005 | People

Hurricane Katrina Volunteer: Brittney Mann

By Kathryn Howe

University of Iowa psychology graduate Brittney Mann, 05BA, spent three days in Louisiana this past fall with a group of 20 Iowa students assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina. Among her backbreaking tasks, she cleaned storm-ravaged houses and delivered life-saving supplies. In particular, Mann helped the Carlson family of Slidell, Louisiana, sift through the damage. Mann is currently working at Iowa City’s crisis pregnancy center, Concern for Women.

Here’s her firsthand account of her experience in Louisiana:

We left Iowa for Slidell on Wednesday, September 7, and drove straight through 15 hours. We arrived about 8 a.m. the next morning and went right to work. We stayed at a church in Mandeville, which had been turned into a distribution center for supplies arriving from across the country. We organized the gymnasium and unloaded trucks as they rolled in. I handed out supplies to individuals and families who stopped by the church. I spent time in the community, helping clean homes and distribute supplies. Everyone I worked with touched my life in some way. It was amazing to see just how grateful people were that someone would actually come to help them. I didn’t always feel like I accomplished a lot because of the massive amount of work to be done. But just seeing how we were able to make people’s days brighter and bring a little joy was well worth the trip.

I connected with the Carlsons the most. We emptied their house of basically everything they owned. At one point, I carried out all of their photos and wedding album. I tried to save some of the pictures, but Hal Carlson asked me just to throw them all out because he couldn’t handle looking through them—he just needed me to get rid of them. He told me this through his tears as I was throwing out his wedding photos. I also talked with Hal’s wife, Vicki, and their daughter-in-law, Michelle. At first, they were pretty devastated. But just talking to them and connecting with them for a few short hours was amazing. Their mood and emotions changed. By the end of the day, they were laughing with us and smiling and just seemed to realize that life would continue. It touched my heart when people told us that the reason they broke down the most was not when they thought about the possessions they lost—it was being with people who sacrificed their time to come here and help them in a time of need.

The devastation was beyond words. We drove through entire neighborhoods where everything was completely destroyed. I can’t begin to describe to someone what the damage looked like or what it felt like to be there. Media and news reporters didn’t do justice to the devastation; they only seem worried about New Orleans and basically forgot about the rest of the state and other small towns in the area. People kept apologizing for the state of their city and the conditions of their homes. They desperately wanted to show us what the city and their homes looked like before. It was interesting to drive around with the locals because they could point out where things used to be.

Volunteering there was a great opportunity to love and serve other people. I cherished the opportunity to show these people that other people care about them. I knew that if I sat up here and did nothing while people so close to home were suffering, I would not be able to get over that feeling. I have a better outlook on relationships with people. I really got a sense for how the things we own, it’s all just stuff. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter. Putting effort and time into relationships is what really matters. Being down there made that so much more real to me.