PHILADELPHIA - Two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, residents of Hancock County, Miss., continue to suffer from a mental-health and social-services crisis, and students and alumni from the University of Pennsylvania have stepped in to lend a hand.
The people from Penn are traveling to a region where suicides, suicide attempts, child abuse and domestic violence have skyrocketed and where there has been a surge in reported cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Connie Hoe, 25, a recent Penn graduate, went to Pearlington, Miss., this summer, along with another recent graduate, Namhee Yun, and a graduate student, Crystal Lucas. Together with local service providers, they're working to help rebuild the county's mental-health and social-services network.
Experts from Penn's School of Social Policy and Practice, including Richard Gelles, the dean, and Joretha Bourjolly, have visited Hancock County several times to conduct a needs assessment for the area. What they found was a dire need to rebuild the county's mental-health services.
The Penn School of Social Policy and Practice is spearheading the project, and its long-term goals include placing students in Hancock County for the field work required for their degrees. On a larger scale, Social Policy and Practice will also involve other Penn schools in "adopting" and rebuilding the county as a University-wide collaborative effort.
According to Hoe, Hancock County is the "forgotten part of the Katrina disaster."