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A Graduation Surprise for Rhodes Rebuilds Team Members

Publication Date: 5/21/2010

For three years, the Rhodes Rebuilds team travelled to New Orleans to help resident Joyce Morris rebuild her house after it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. But on May 15, Morris travelled to Memphis to watch four of the team members–Alex Bahnev, Stephanie Cassel, Alex Chansuthus and Aaron Fitzgerald--graduate.

“It was a surprise to them,” said Morris who is from the Lower Ninth Ward, the region that experienced catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Katrina. “I can’t repay the students for all they have done. They have given up their spring and fall breaks. They have helped me physically, spiritually and emotionally. They have gutted my house, helped me with my yard and all kinds of things.”












“I was consumed with joy when I saw Ms. Morris at graduation,” commented Fitzgerald. “From the short time I knew her she changed my life and showed me the value of service, and by her presence at the ceremony my thoughts were not alone.”

Since 2006, members of Rhodes Rebuilds, which is a student-led effort, have travelled to New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, MS to help with rebuilding efforts. There have been a total of nine trips with seven to  Morris’ home.

“These students really have been genuine in what they are doing,” said Morris who for years lived in a FEMA trailer behind her house. “You just don’t have people to stick with you like that.”

Morris added that on their last trip, the students gave her a scrapbook with before and after photos of her house. Now she can add the photos she took with them at graduation.

“I got to meet their families. I had a fantastic time,” commented Morris about her visit to the Rhodes campus. “Stephanie told me ‘You came all the way just to see me graduate.’ Well, I said you came to see about me. I just hope they know how much I appreciate them.”  

Bahnev received a B.A. degree in international studies; Chansuthus, a B.A. degree in international studies; Cassel, a B.S. degree in biology and theatre (double major); and Fitzgerald, a B.A. degree  in business.

Pictured in the above photo are (l-r): Joyce Morris, Aaron Fitzgerald, Stephanie Cassel, Alex Chansuthus and Alex Bahnev.

In the photo below are some of the students gutting Morris’ house during spring break 2007.


Tags: Alumni, Campus Life, Events, Service, Students


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Mary C. Villere May 24, 2010

I have no association with Rhodes, but a friend of mine--who has 3 daughters who are alumnae--forwarded this article to me.  I can′t tell you how touched I was to read it.  Even those of us who were unscathed by Hurricane Katrina have daily reminders of this defining moment in the history of our city.  I applaud these young Rhodes grads for reaching out and making an ongoing commitment to someone in need, Ms. Morris for showing them how much their effort has meant to her, and Rhodes for sponsoring Rhodes Rebuilds.  Well done!