Katrina Recovery Club trip to New Orleans

By Katie Smith

Contributing Writer

This January, the University’s Hurricane Katrina Recovery Team traveled to New Orleans to help the people of the great “Big Easy” rebuild after the devastation caused to the community after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

As a student co-leader for the trip, along with Cara Poli ’12, it was an honor to lead and work together with a fantastic group of 27 fellow students and faculty. This year, our group worked with recent graduate Andrew Yaspan ’11, who is currently working as part of AmeriCorps in partnership with the St. Bernard Project. Together, with the St. Bernard Project, we worked on installing the insulation and dry wall for the Williams family in New Orleans East.

We were thrilled to meet the homeowner himself, Keith Williams, on our first day of working. Keith bravely shared his family’s story about how they have attempted to rebuild their house and lives for six years after the storm. Now, Keith, his wife and their teenage son are seeing their dreams rise from the ground. Our group was lucky to spend some intimate time talking with Keith and on our last day on the work site, the family cooked our entire group a New Orleans traditional lunch of catfish, jambalaya and an assortment of other “fixin’s.”

As a returning student leader, one of the most amazing and rewarding parts of the trip was getting to know Keith and truly seeing the difference we made for him and his family. Our job, though tiring at times, was a wonderful contribution to the Williams’ home. As the walls began to rise, Keith was already planning out where he would place his furniture and where he would relax by the fireplace. He even showed our group where he would put our group picture on the wall as a reminder of our dedication to the Williams family and the community of New Orleans.

Returning back on campus, our team is still committed to serving the people of New Orleans. Working with Andrew is a reminder to us all of how we can continue our work, whether down in New Orleans or raising money on campus. We hope that the entire campus community will join in our upcoming fundraising opportunities so that we can support the St. Bernard Project and the University’s service learning trip each semester.

In addition to building, our group had fun exploring New Orleans, meeting new people, eating traditional foods and enjoying some local jazz music. Traveling to New Orleans and serving the city’s people has been one of the most incredible and life changing experiences. Despite Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans remains one of the most distinguished cities in the United States. Rich in culture and spirit, New Orleans is determined to rebuild. Six years later, the city of remains in desperate need of volunteers to help rebuild. Our team encourages all students and faculty interested in serving the community of New Orleans to apply for future trips.

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