Student Spotlight: Crystal Lucas

Crystal Lucas Mark Stehle

PROVIDING RELIEF: This past summer, Lucas, a graduate student in the School of Social Policy and Practice, joined recent Penn grads Connie Hoe and Namhee Yun in Hancock County, Mississippi—the site of some of the most devastating damage from Hurricane Katrina. Lucas was on hand as part of the Feldman Initiative to tend to the mental and emotional health of residents recovering from the storm and flood. “The School really wanted to find a way to get engaged with the Katrina relief effort,” says Lucas. “After time goes by, the mental health effort goes by the wayside.”

THE SCENE: The town of Perlington, Miss—where Lucas and fellow volunteers were staying for the month-long effort—was submerged under 15 to 30 feet of water after the storm. “The whole coastline—the beach is just gone,” Lucas says, noting that entire stores, churches and homes were uprooted or simply destroyed. “Your whole orientation of your community is completely warped.”

WHAT THEY DID: Lucas and others went door-to-door, talking to four or five families per day, for at least an hour each, about how they’re recovering two years later. “It was surprising to me how much they wanted to talk about it [to us],” says Lucas, who noted residents tended to not discuss their well-being among themselves. “I can’t imaging going through something like this and never talking about it.”

HOW THE RESIDENTS ARE COPING: Lucas saw depression in many residents. Some who are rebuilding have intense feelings of guilt that they’re able to do so. Others, who spent years building homes and lives in Mississippi, saw everything washed away, and are forced to begin all over again. Despite that, “people are so hopeful. There were very few people who complained.”

‘INFECTIOUS WARMTH’: Despite the destruction, Lucas was touched by what she calls, “the infectious warmth of the South.” She said people were eager to show hospitality, baking them cookies and loading them up with vegetables from their gardens.

LEAVING HER FAMILY: Lucas, a single mom, thought long and hard about her decision to spend a month in Mississippi, and made arrangements for her family to care for her three-year-old son, Isaah, while she was away. “It was a huge personal sacrifice,” she said. “It was something that I had to do—and I’m grateful that I did it. ...There’s power in volunteering—there really is. It’s not doing something for nothing.”

Originally published Oct. 4, 2007.

Originally published on October 4, 2007