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Loudoun Resident Rebuilds Lives

The Cancun Alternative

Jacob Weitz has always been a team player.

When the opportunity came up to be a part of 100 students from across the country to rebuild homes, Jacob Weitz jumped on board.

Jacob Weitz’s mother, Elise Weitz, said her son has always thrived on being part of a team.

"He’s been playing soccer since he was 7," she said. "He’s definitely an athlete and loves being part of a group."

Instead of hitting the beach, Jacob Weitz hammered and nailed his spring break away. The George Mason University soccer player spent one week in Foley, Ala., rebuilding the homes of two residents there.

TWO MONTHS AGO, Jacob Weitz flipped through television channels and came across an MTV commercial for alternative spring breaks. The commercial encouraged 18- to 24-year-olds to apply to participate in a Gulf Coast spring break to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.

"After I saw the commercial, I visited the Web site and decided to apply," he said. "MTV selected 100 out of 3,000 applicants and I was one of them."

After being selected to participate in the program, called Storm Corps, sponsored by MTV and the United Way, Jacob Weitz bought an airplane ticket to Biloxi, Miss.

MTV welcomed the GMU defensive back to Biloxi with a tour of the city.

About 15 white vans piled with students from across the country lined I-90. Jacob Weitz looked out his window and saw skeletons of houses, blown-out windows and broken doors.

"I remember seeing a Waffle House sign, but no Waffle House," he said. "I saw a barge on land, in someone’s backyard."

AFTER A TOUR of the city, 38 out of 100 participants traveled to Foley, Ala., and got to work rebuilding a Vietnam veteran’s roof.

"His name is Dan," Jacob Weitz said. "The nicest guy in the world. Even though he had a bad back, he was outside everyday, offering us drinks, picking up shingles."

In three days, the volunteers stripped the veteran’s old roof down and rebuilt a new one.

"He just kept thanking us," the college junior said. "He said he couldn’t express how much it meant to him. That meant a lot."

By day four, the group moved on to Mary Williams house.

The 40-year-old single mother lived with her daughter in a trailer provided to her by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her Foley home.

"There was nothing left of her house," Jacob Weitz said. "No windows, no doors, nothing but a frame."

FEMA was rushing Williams out of the trailer, so Jacob Weitz and his group knew they had to get the job done.

"It was a big project, but by the time it was finished Mary was the happiest woman in the world," he said. "Everyone was crying. You literally had to drag us out of the house."

BACK IN his GMU dorm-room, Jacob Weitz remembers Mary Williams' face. He still remembers the way he felt after hammering the last nail into her roof.

Elise Weitz said her son came back from Alabama speechless.

"All he could say was, ‘it was awesome,’" she said.

The Loudoun Valley High School alum went to United Way headquarters in Washington, D.C., last month. Jacob Weitz presented them with a plan to get college teams involved with alternative spring breaks.

"So that’s what I’m working on now," he said. "Hopefully, I’ll be able to get my team down there next year."