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Harvard students on quest to aid Katrina victims

The Selma Times-Journal

Ten Harvard Law School students could not stand by and watch Alabama residents lose their homes and livelihoods as Hurricane Katrina swept through the Southeast.

“Watching everything that happened on television, the faces I saw looked like myself,” student Chaz Ainett said. “Deep down that was the greatest motivation for me coming here.”

C.H.A.S.M. Family Resource Center founders, the Rev. Carl Rawls and his wife Marilyn, are playing host and hostess to the students who are passing through Selma to assist hurricane victims throughout southern Alabama.

C.H.A.S.M., which stands for Caring-Helping-Aiding-Supporting-Mentoring, was contacted by Sanetta Ponton, a Harvard Law Student who was angered as she watched the events of Hurricane Katrina unfold.

“We felt helpless,” Ponton said. “We were in a unique situation where we wanted to help but didn’t know exactly what to do, how we could assist and we could only give the victims so much money.”

With no money to travel to Alabama to help hurricane victims, the students received funding from Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan and the campus Black Law Student Association.

“For most of us, the community in Alabama has been particularly devastated and have not received the same amount of attention as New Orleans and Houston,” Ponton said. “We felt that our efforts could be very useful here.”

The students traveled to Mobile, Dauphin Island and Bayou La Batre last week to be of service to hurricane victims and will later travel to New Orleans.

They do not care what tasks they are assigned just as long as they are helping those in need.

“We’re going to do whatever they need whether it’s handing out food or clothes or getting water to the people,” student Blaire Malkin said.

Student Devika Kornbacher evacuated from Baton Rouge when Hurricane Katrina barreled down on New Orleans. She said school is not only about learning things in the books, but learning and touching communities outside the classroom as well.

“You’re going to law school and it’s a debate where you feel like, ‘Why am I going to school while I may be helpful here and help in a real and tangible way,” Kornbacher said.

After volunteering their time, the students will return to Selma for a “last reflection,” the Rev. Rawls said.

Student Kim Razener said she is thankful to the Rawls for taking the group under their wing while in Selma. The group visited Selma sites such as the National Voting Rights Museum and the Old Depot Museum to get a feel for the city.

“The Rawls have been kind enough to help us learn that we do have skills and that we can offer help to people who have been victimized by the hurricane and other crisis in the area,” Razener said.