On Jan. 23 at 3 a.m., a group of sixteen Duhawks met in the Keane parking lot to begin the sixteen hour drive to New Orleans, LA. The students who participated in the trip were Allison Bentz, Shannon McQuillan, Anna Sweeney, Heather Everding, Luis Sanchez, Tessa Botka, Emily Erickson, Jacob Formella, Louisa Pavlik, Nicole Pleggenkuhle, Allegra Johnson, Kayla Barnes, Monica Vallejo and Mary Sutarik. Loras staff members Lynn Gallagher and Patti Burgmeier also came with the group.
Only 10 people originally were planning to spend their J-Term break in New Orleans with the remaining six people listed planning to trek to Camden, NJ. However, the massive Winter Storm Jonas that pummeled the East Coast with snow brought the two groups to work together down south. The group stayed at one site together for the majority of the week, getting dusty from the constant sanding of drywall which required masks to avoid breathing it in.
Arrival at Camp Hope couldn’t come fast enough after driving seventeen hours in the vans. The group was greeted by Walt, a volunteer who runs Camp Hope by cooking meals from scratch and tending to the needs of groups who reside there. The food included a make-your-own pizza night, being a group favorite, as well as the much-anticipated Cajun Night.
“I had such a good time. I learned so much about Cajun food,” junior Tessa Botka said.
That Sunday offered sunshine and tourism throughout the famous New Orleans French Quarter since volunteer work did not begin until Monday. Low, colorful buildings lined each street with quirky voodoo stores and daiquiri shops sandwiched side by side. Shiny decorations of green, purple and gold were woven all around Bourbon Street and the surrounding area in anticipation of Mardi Gras. Spotting Sandra Bullock in her own backyard as well as eating the deliciously crisp and fluffy beignets while live music played were among that day’s highs.
When Monday approached, the group was ready to head to the St. Bernard Project’s Headquarters to receive background on the continuing devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
“Even after 10 years, it’s crazy to see how much still needs to be done,” Botka said. “Our Americorps volunteer director said it’s going to be thirty more years of recovery.”
Lynch Learning Center staff member Lynn Gallagher was kind enough to share her thoughts on spending January 23- 29 in New Orleans, LA:
“It is unbelievable to imagine that after 10 years, there are still survivors of Hurricane Katrina who are waiting for their homes to be inhabitable. The St. Bernard Project has partnered with various volunteer organizations to ensure those individuals have homes to return to. Loras students witnessed, first hand, the devastation of the 9th ward and the work needed to return it to its former state. Kudos to those students who worked tirelessly to help bring a family home.”
The work from Monday to Friday proved a bit more difficult to catch onto than anticipated. “Mudding,” or as most of the students called it “spackling,” wasn’t nearly as easy as the Americorps volunteers that managed the site made it look. Sanding the walls to smoothness was important for the family who would soon live in the home the Duhawks were working on. Senior Luis Sanchez proved to be a great student-leader with tips on the worksite. His background in construction and willingness to help the other students definitely made the work go more smoothly.
The students worked hard but still found the ability to have fun and make jokes, forging bonds that will last beyond the combined 34 hours spent in big white vans and the week working in close proximity. Patti Burgmeier and Lynn Gallagher were simultaneously fun and supportive staff members to go on the trip, keeping the students laughing and reflecting on the importance of the volunteer work. Allison Bentz and Kayla Barnes, who was the leader of the group originally planning to go to Camden, worked together to make the trip flow smoothly with lots of giggles and meaningful experiences in the New Orleans community.