They came to make a difference, but the biggest change may be within themselves. Hundreds of Youth For Christ members are getting the Hurricane Katrina experience this week. They are not only helping to clean up the mess left behind by the storm but also learning some of what it was like for people who went through it.
Usually they're rivals, but now students from two Michigan high schools are working together for the people of South Mississippi.
"I feel like I'm making a difference with everything I'm doing," said Lauren Hargreaves. "I'm hoping at least."
Other Youth for Christ chapters from Georgia, Florida, California and Alabama are also in South Mississippi this week. They're cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina and getting to know other young people who share their strong Christian beliefs.
"It's a lot different," said high school student Steven Barnes. "Who I hang out with, they're not the same as all these people. They really want to make a difference. Some people I hang out with don't care, so I try to get into groups like this."
Organizers wanted these students to get a true taste of what life has been like for people here since the storm. The lunch menu for the next week consists of MREs.
I asked Amanda Chapin how the heating process was going for her.
"Not very well. It's heating up though. Holy cow."
Along with the military style lunch, the students sleep at a Gulfport school set up like the shelters where so many people stayed during the storm.
"Yesterday I woke up and my sister was rolled on top of me," said Lauren See. "Being so close to people was crazy. It's good to take a walk in someone else's shoes."
Brad Holt oversees the local chapter of Youth For Christ.
"I think it's important that students understand that life is not all about getting, it's about giving. I think this experience will give them that. Sometimes it's just important to be part of something that's bigger than yourself."
Students say they are already taking that lesson to heart. High school senior Mitchell Nelson said, "This is probably the best experience of my life because of getting to help people."
The Youth For Christ students are also cleaning up debris from a park in Long Beach and the causeway between Gautier and Pascagoula.