BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They're tasting Southern sweet tea and finding out about fire ants. Hundreds of young visitors from Minnesota are working on a variety of volunteer projects along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They are Lutheran church members preparing for a national conference in New Orleans.
At the Biloxi Visitors Center, the mission project is landscaping.
"Raking and putting mulch in the gardens," said Lindsey Anderson.
As the late morning sun beat down, Lutheran teens tackled the mountain of mulch, with a parade of wheel barrows. This outdoor summer labor is a new experience for some.
"Yeah, I normally answer phones in an air conditioned building," said Courtney Osbakken, "So this is super different."
Lindsey Anderson doesn't mind all the raking, though she is a bit paranoid about a certain Southern pest: Fire ants.
"We don't have those in Minnesota. And they're pretty scary!" she said.
Did she get stung? "No, but one of my friends did. She ran and took all her shoes off!"
One of the groups that formed after Katrina, "Hands On Mississippi" helped organize the visit by these Lutheran volunteers.
Many of these young visitors are intrigued by the hurricane's impact.
"And I just wanted to meet the residents and see how they could have taken everything that's happened to them and still move on with life when they have lost everything. I couldn't imagine how I would go through it if I lost everything," said Andy Larsen.
Chances are good you may see some of these Minnesota volunteers in action this week. They're involved in more than 20 projects in six cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They'll spend their time here sharing and learning.
"We spent some time talking with people, hearing their stories about how they've dealt with the aftermath from Katrina. And how their lives have changed here. It's more of what they take away than what they give," said Chad Christensen.
Later this week, the Minnesota visitors will join 35,000 other Lutheran young people for a national conference in New Orleans.