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Oct. 5, 2006 • Volume 15 Number 3

Persevere founder Bill Driscoll Jr. '05, right, and his father Bill Sr. with 2006 BC grads (l-R) Jen Marsh, Marianne Tierney and Beca Howard.

Alum's Relief Effort in Gulf Coast Takes Root

With helping hands from fellow grads, he hopes to do more

By Greg Frost
Staff Writer

When Bill Driscoll Jr. '05, headed to the Gulf Coast more than a year ago to help with hurricane relief efforts, he planned to volunteer for three weeks before returning north to pursue his dream of working in film and television production.

Thirteen months later, the Milton, Mass., native is still on the bayou and still hard at work. Only now he has been joined by three members of BC's Class of 2006: Beca Howard, Jen Marsh and Marianne Tierney. Together, they make up the operations staff of Persevere Disaster Relief, a non-profit organization that Driscoll launched earlier this year to rebuild shattered lives and landscapes that Hurricane Katrina left behind.

Driscoll was inspired to start his own non-profit after spending his first six months on the Gulf Coast with Hands On USA, a small relief organization that maximized its resources while keeping red tape to a minimum.

After Hands On USA concluded its Biloxi, Mississippi-based hurricane relief efforts in February, Driscoll decided to stay on. He moved further east along the coast to some of the Mississippi communities hardest hit by Katrina - Pass Christian, Waveland and Bay Saint Louis - and founded Persevere, modeling it on the nimble, effective system he saw work at Hands On USA.

"They had a get-it-done mentality that we've translated into our business model with Persevere," Driscoll said in a recent telephone interview.

It is that can-do attitude and flexibility that impresses local residents like Karen Aderer, a 15-year resident of Bay Saint Louis. Aderer got to know Persevere's crew when they helped rebuild a shelter for abused and neglected children where she serves as director of program services.

Aderer says Persevere is among a group of small non-profits that have been the "saving grace" of the Gulf Coast, whose residents otherwise generally feel let down by the government, the insurance companies and even the bigger non-profits.

"Groups like Persevere are willing to do the dirty work and keep the bureaucracy to a minimum," she says. "They don't say 'fill out these forms and we'll get back to you in three weeks.' They show up and ask what needs to be done. We need more people like them."

Persevere's main task these days is removing the second round of Katrina's massive tree slaughter. The first round comprised the thousands of trees uprooted by the hurricane's winds. But by flooding large swaths of coastal land, Katrina laced the soil with salt water that has killed many more.

Persevere has so far removed some 500 trees that posed a danger to people or buildings, but many more need to come down.

"We're in a race against time," says Driscoll during a break from performing maintenance on his fleet of chainsaws. "We're dealing with people who have lost everything and are now living in FEMA trailers. They can't afford to hire a service to come out and remove their trees. That's where we come in."

Persevere's efforts don't stop at trees. Driscoll and his BC crew also offer plumbing and sewer repairs, debris removal, and they even build sandboxes to give Gulf Coast children a safe place to play away from the potentially hazardous silt and mud left in Katrina's wake.

"We tend to get projects that fall through the cracks," says Tierney, who along with Howard and Marsh joined Driscoll in June, shortly they graduated.

The three women had come to know Driscoll during a Gulf Coast volunteer stint in January and had kept in touch over the spring. When he asked them to commit to Persevere for a year, they immediately signed on.

"We're here out of a sense of wanting to set the world aflame," says Tierney, echoing the words of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola. "There's still a lot of clean-up work that needs to be done, and our program was set up to be versatile and to meet a mix of changing needs."

Driscoll says in addition to the invaluable contributions of Tierney, Marsh and Howard, one of Persevere's biggest assets is his own father: Bill Driscoll Sr., a Boston-area plumber and contractor who has made nearly two dozen service trips to the Gulf Coast since Katrina hit last year.

Looking forward, Driscoll says he and his staff plan to stay until next June, at which time he will assess whether Persevere's services are still needed. If they are, Driscoll wants to recruit the next class of volunteers from BC's ranks.

In the meantime, however, Driscoll is seeking more short-term volunteers and donations from the Boston College community. For more information, visit www.perseverevolunteers.org.

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