During the transition between presidents, some of the gardens at Unity House became a bit overgrown. I weeded the two flower gardens directly in front of the house, but the area inside the driveway circle needed professional help. Rachel Mestas, a 2009 graduate of Unity with a degree in Environmental Policy, was clearly the woman for the job.
Rachel has worked at various jobs since her graduation, always on the lookout for a full-time environmental policy position. Like many recent college graduates and workers everywhere, she’s been affected by the recession, but she remains optimistic -- and passionate about current issues in environmental politics.
I’ve have no doubt that she will reach her goals. As a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, Rachel knows how to weather a storm. An environmental activist in the community of Gulfport, Mississippi for many years, she knew she had found the right educational institution when a friend told her about Unity College. But her path here was disrupted by a natural disaster of epic proportions.
In 2O05, Rachel was accepted at Unity College and completed her Nova Wilderness Orientation experience that summer. She returned to her home in Gulfport, and then Hurricane Katrina hit. Rachel feels fortunate that she did not lose any family members during the storm, but the storm literally flooded her out of the home she owned in Gulfport. Her story of survival is both courageous and poetic. I was struck with her description of the storm’s violence, how it ate away at her home piece by piece. But I was struck even more by her description of how the storm, once it had passed and knocked out all human-engineered power, left her neighborhood in complete silence, under a brilliantly starry night sky. “I never knew there were so many stars,” she said.
Rachel lived in a FEMA trailer for months as she worked to repair the damage to her house. Like many people who experienced the devastation of Katrina, she felt consumed by the storm’s destruction and the need to set things right. Then one day a friend’s words brought her out of that fog and reminded her of what she had intended to do – complete her education at Unity College. She enrolled in classes the following autumn, and graduated in 2009.
Here in August of 2011, in the course of just a few days, Rachel took on another big repair job and transformed the garden in the driveway so that its original plan was visible. I love how the line of rocks through the center section mimics the flow of a riverbed.
Rachel sees many functions for Unity House, but most important to her is how Unity House symbolizes the college’s ideal of sustainability – its efforts “to live in agreement with nature,” as she puts it.
“When we’re in the middle of something and can’t see our way out, that’s when we need each other,” Rachel says. Listening to her, I’m reminded of a phrase from my bartending days when we used to say we were “in the weeds” when we were overwhelmed by customers and needed help. Thanks to Rachel for getting us out of the weeds here!