Ball cap skewed on his head, athletic shoes on his feet, UCI undergraduate Charles Dorsey is a young man in a hurry.

“I’m running on fumes,” he says, dropping into a chair at the Cornerstone Café. Dorsey, a fifth-year anthropology student, has just pulled an all-nighter cramming for a test, playing catch-up because he missed a week of school. His excuse is a good one. He recently traveled to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“I couldn’t give them money, but I had to do something,” Dorsey says.

He heeded the call to help from his pastor, the Rev. Mark Whitlock of Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal Church, which meets on campus. Dorsey, a minister in training and director of the church’s Young Adult Choir, joined about 70 volunteers, including about 10 UCI students, on a two-day bus trip to the south.

“Charles really led the way for students. He e-mailed, cajoled and recruited them,” Whitlock says.

During his three-day stay in New Orleans, Dorsey handed out food and cash cards donated by his church to evacuees. He cleaned houses filled with mud. He cleared debris from a caved-in roof at the University of New Orleans. At night, he and other volunteers slept on the floor of a Baptist church.

“I wanted to be tired, to get dirty, to do what it takes to help these people,” he says.

Dorsey can identify with the survivors. He knows what it’s like to be without a home, without money, and to be let down by others. He grew up in Compton, living with friends his last year of high school.

“I had nowhere to stay,” he says. “The people who raised me dropped out on me. It’s been a battle.”

Dorsey got a scholarship to UCI and threw himself into extracurricular activities – including Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity for African Americans and the Afrikan Student Union. After graduating, he hopes to become a minister in the AME church.

“There is so much I’d like to do with my life,” he says, before hurrying off to class. “Wherever I see an opportunity to give back, I will.”