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United Way Alternative Spring Break:  South Mississippi

Brett Johnson is a senior studying political science and communication at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. As a student leader preparing to graduate, he has opted to spend his senior spring break on the Magnolia Coast serving others as a part of United Way's Alternative Spring Break program in partnership with the United Way of South Mississippi . . . This is his story.

Creating Lasting Memories:  A Polka Dot Story

You have no idea the impact this place has on the children that come here."

Executive Director, Lynn Meadows Discovery Center

The Executive Director of Lynn Meadows Discovery Center set the tone for today's work by sharing how the children's museum impacts the Biloxi community. Children and families from South Mississippi make regular trips to learn about science, history and the arts.

Lynn Meadows was one of the many facilities affected by Hurricane Katrina. In the nine years since, it has slowly recovered from damages. The trick has been restoring it to the original aesthetic value it held for generations. The last pieces were an "Under the Sea" mural and repaving the parking lot. However, repaving the lot meant covering up the vibrant polka dots that welcomed so many children and families for decades.

Our project was to restore the polka dots along the entry way. Though painting polka dots may not seem a significant contribution, the impact was truly more than one could imagine. In fact, the Executive Director recounted a tiny visitor that recently stormed into her office weeping and demanding an answer to "why the polka dots were gone?"

As a child, I spent many days at Imagination Place in downtown Gadsden, Alabama where I pretended to be a doctor, a construction worker or a paramedic. To this day, I remember the vibrant colors and interactive facilities. I can't help but imagine the impact this facility has and will have on the over 70,000 annual visitors. So we went to work, painting hundreds of bright polka dots for the children to hop and skip on as they enter the museum.

Today taught me working in a team is easier than it seems. We were asked as a group to begin painting and we all immediately jumped in without hesitation and even ran out of paint within a few hours. We were having fun enjoying each others' company rather than viewing our project as a "job." In fact, our resident artist, Param (Oklahoma University), took it upon himself to create a large whale, a ladybug and the sun that spiced up the artwork.

Once we returned, most of us used free time to nap. Some of us had awoken at 4:30 a.m. to meet the local TV news crew who covered our activities all day. Once we recouped, we spent the evening sharing our experiences. Now, we're hanging out and looking forward to tomorrow which is a "tourist day." We will learn about lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina and visiting some South Mississippi landmarks.

My experience so far has been mostly cultural. In the group of 22 students, represented are over six different countries and every region of the U.S. We've spent most of our free time sharing about our respective cultures and asking all sorts of probing questions. This has been one of the most educational experiences of my life and I couldn't be happier that I chose to spend spring break on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with these 22 amazing students!