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A group of teenagers from Forest Park’s First United Church of Christ will head to Biloxi, Mississippi in August to help that city rebuild from the damage it endured during last year’s hurricane season.

To fund the trip, students are hoping for the support of Forest Parkers during an extended pasta dinner to be held at the church on Sunday, May 21 from 1 to 6 p.m. According to Laura Cleveland, who is organizing the fundraiser, the trip will cost around $2,000.

“We kind of brainstormed ideas and came up with the pasta dinner,” said Josh Cleveland, Laura’s son. “We do a lot of PADS dinners, so we knew we could do it.”

The trip will be coordinated by the Biloxi-based Back Bay Mission, which had most of its own facilities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The group will live in double-wide trailers during its stay in town.

“We don’t know exactly what we’ll be doing but it’ll be one of the following”mold abatement, taking out drywall, installing new drywall, painting, electrical work, plumbing, roofing … one or all of the above,” said Rev. Clifford DiMascio of First United.

The group is prepared for the work ahead, having performed similar tasks during past trips and “work camps” closer to home and assisted with a recent renovation project at the Cleveland home.

Despite being hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, Biloxi has been overlooked by many volunteers and agencies seeking to provide relief, though the city of about 50,000’s casino-heavy economy has helped pick up at least some of the slack.

DiMascio hopes the experience will be an eye opener for the youth group. He said he will seek to find ways to bring the group in touch with local residents, and possibly even political officials, in part to help nurture the youths’ interest in issues of race and class.

“The thing that is compelling is that people in the richest country in the world didn’t have water, food, a place to go bathroom or safe shelter for several days. We want to find out if race and class had anything to do or if it was just bureaucracy.”

Mostly, he hopes the group will return home with a renewed appreciation of everything they have and how easily it could all be taken away.

“They’ll have a different experience to contrast with their own life, and they’ll never be the same. They reflect upon how good they have it and how much they take for granted,” he said.

The group of eight teenagers, all aged 16 or over, will be accompanied by four adults.

The cost of the pasta dinner will be $6. First United is located at 1000 Elgin Ave.