Jackson-area high school and college students, teachers, parents and other volunteers returned Saturday night from a weeklong relief trip to the Gulf Coast. For many, it was their second visit in six months.
"It was just devastation. So many houses that hadn't been touched in 10 months. Some of the homes at four or five feet of debris," Jason Pennewill said.
Pennewill is one of the 75 students, grads and volunteers just back from six days of hard work, removing debris from homes once submerged in as much as 30 feet of water.
They spent half of the trip in Chalmette, La., and the other half in Bayou la Batre, Ala.
It's the second time Pennewill and many of the others have been to that Alabama town.
"I knew there was still a lot of work to be done, and I thought, why not go?" he said.
The daylong bus rides to and from the coast were familiar for Angela Jancek as well.
"I saw a lot of development, but I saw a lot of destruction ... It's coming along, but it's very slow," Jancek, a rising senior at Northwest High School, said.
Both trips were organized by Northwest High School English teacher Marnie Hade. She says, this time around, the students got to see some of the same homes they had worked on earlier.
They were especially pleased to see one home, Hade says, with fresh siding and new windows, among other updates. Still, she described other homes that hadn't made as much progress.
"It looked as though a lot had not changed," Hade said.
Despite slow progress, volunteers say residents in the small towns were grateful for the work of a dedicated few -- but concerned that so many others may have forgotten them.
"They said the number of volunteers is starting to diminish. People are thinking, 'It's gotta be getting better, and, it's not,'" Pennewill said.
So how can it get better? Some volunteers are already looking ahead.
"We were like okay, when's the next trip? Because there's so much to do. It's kind of mixed feelings. We want to see our families, but we still want to be down there helping people who, you know, they have nothing, and we're giving them hope back," Jancek said.
Hade tells us a third trip hasn't been organized yet.
She says she hopes the trips will instill a sense of volunteerism that the students can use closer to home as well.