I was in Canada fishing when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. We were "off the grid" and didn't know about the devastation until after we arrived back in civilization. During the following days as I was watching the media coverage something struck me: what's happening to the farmers and the people in the rural communities?
All the media coverage was focused on New Orleans -- and certainly what happened there was tragic, but the hurricane struck a huge geographic region and inflicted and enormous toll throughout the area. As volunteers started organizing to aid victims and those displaced, the media coverage remained centered on New Orleans and urban centers. That's when I brought to the High Council the idea of a work trip to help farmers and rural communities clean-up and rebuild.
I had no idea how we were going to pull this off. AZ hadn't ever done anything like this, we didn't have the budget to do it and I had no idea who would show up.
But I figured, Alpha Zeta has more than 3,000 student members. We have the hands to do a lot of good work, and in that first year I rallied a small number of students -- about 20 -- from several Midwestern chapters along with California Eta and Cornell to take a little trip with me. But I really had no idea what we were getting into other than we were going to get our hands dirty.
Yet through a series of fortunate events, Alpha Zeta developed a relationship with Louisiana Farm Bureau. They helped us arrange lodging, meals and work sites. Working with LaFB folks such as Scott Bickham, Nolan Beabinoux and others smoothed the logistics.
And I was -- and continue to be -- fortunate to head an organization with the highest caliber college students in agriculture. My biggest fear was the people participating wouldn't get along and we wouldn't get anything done.
I'm certain we exceeded everyone's expectations. Those novice fence-builders stretched more than five miles of fence in under four days. The farmers' jaws dropped when they saw the girls keeping up with the boys stringing wire, clipping ties, pounding posts and cleaning up debris.
That first trip in December 2005 was special. It's since launched five National Service Projects -- the sixth is scheduled for December 17-22 in Orlando, Fla. -- and three Service Leadership Experience trips, a combination of service projects and AgTours in Puerto Rico.
And, although the mission of Alpha Zeta hasn't changed much in 113 years, the Gulf Coast Work Trip has renewed Alpha Zeta's focus and emphasis on doing the greatest good for the greatest number.