Students Spend Winter Break Rebuilding Homes for Hurricane Katrina Survivors

The students volunteered with Texas Tech’s Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement and Project Homecoming to rebuild homes in New Orleans.

CALUE New Orleans Participants

CALUE participants at the building site

Right before the historic Goliath snowstorm struck Lubbock in December, seven Texas Tech University students along with two staff members traveled to New Orleans teaming up with Project Homecoming to rebuild homes for Hurricane Katrina survivors.

During their time in New Orleans, students mainly worked on one home of a woman named Ms. Connie who was one of many victims of contract fraud after the hurricane. After a persistent effort to get her home rebuilt, Project Homecoming and the students used their skills of painting, wall and door trimming and grouting tile for her home after 10 years.

Jacy Proctor, trip adviser and unit coordinator for Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement (CALUE), said this trip and CALUE's other service breaks give students a new outlook on service.

"These opportunities allow our students to help communities they might never come in contact with and in ways they might never have thought they could," she said. "With these new experiences and the reflection done while on the trips, we really hope students will be inspired to come back to their own communities and serve."

From the famous Café du Monde to tired and achy muscles and visiting areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina, students blogged about their daily activities and experiences at CALUE Service Breaks.

On the fourth day, Walker Carson, a freshman animal science major, recounted Ms. Connie's experience during the hurricane.

Cafe du Monde

Café du Monde

Carson wrote that due to the immensity of the storm, Ms. Connie was forced to leave her home and evacuate to Birmingham, Alabama. Once she returned, the damage to her home was so bad it needed to be knocked down and rebuilt. With the lack of insurance money, she was forced to stay in Birmingham for a year and attempt to get her home rebuilt.

When talking about the hurricane, Ms. Connie said it felt like she was in a black-and-white movie she couldn't escape.

"Ms. Connie's stories and the way she told them were enough to make everyone's eyes tear up, including mine," said Claudio Bustos, a senior mechanical engineering major. "Her tales were not only moving, but were also filled with well-informed facts and ideas that may have shifted the focus of some of my life goals. Listening to her speak is life-changing. She was as motivating as she was grateful for our volunteer work."

Students from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette volunteered with Project Homecoming. All of the students and trip advisers stayed together at "the village" with Project Homecoming, cooked for one another, had daily chores and helped build beds for more lodging.

Ashley Wasswa, a junior biology major, said building the house for Ms. Connie and the work for the village was a great challenge.

"I'll be the first to admit that building a home is definitely not as glamorous or simple as I thought it was," she said. "From working on your hands and knees for hours on end to figuring out the correct measurements for each piece of the 'house puzzle,' it was both physically and mentally exhausting. But I'll also be the first to say it is all worth it. It is worth my time. It is worth how tired I feel after eight hours of work each day. It is worth it all just to know that God has blessed us by giving us an opportunity to bless someone else."

CALUE New Orleans Participants

Students painted, added wall and door trimming and used other skills to help rebuild Ms. Connie's home.

One of the most pressing things the students experienced was the damage left behind from Katrina after almost 11 years. The students took a tour through the areas of New Orleans that were hit and still are recovering from it today, and also saw a presentation that walked through the timeline of events.

"I was really shocked to know what happened with the city before and after the hurricane," said Nataly Montano, a senior biology major. "On our walking tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, it was living proof of the effects the hurricane had on the city. I love the sense of community the people in this city have. This is their home, and many still returned to rebuild their homes after the disaster."

At the end of the trip all seven of the students had been impacted greatly by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Project Homecoming and Ms. Connie.

Ryan Bowman, a freshman pre-medicine student, said the best way to describe the trip was a "service learning experience" because they had learned so much on their service break.

"We learned about everything from the best place to get a po'boy to the sheer magnitude of the damage that Hurricane Katrina caused," he said. "We experienced everything from the process of piecing a home together to what it was like to live through the hurricane disaster.

"Although we went to New Orleans to serve the community, I believe we gained the greatest reward. This was made evident through the words of the sweet Ms. Connie. She delivered a message of encouragement and informed us that we can make a difference in the lives of countless people through service. I think all of my fellow CALUE members can agree this topped off the trip."

The CALUE Service Breaks program began in 2014 and has continued to grow. CALUE hosts service breaks during the winter, spring and summer breaks. They have traveled to San Antonio, El Paso and Dallas and will travel to Waco, Corpus Christi and Costa Rica later this year.

CALUE New Orleans Participants

The next CALUE trip will be during Spring Break.

The Waco trip is scheduled for spring break (March 16-20) and students will team with Life on the Other Side and World Hunger Relief.

The Corpus Christi trip also is scheduled for Spring Break (March 15-19) where students will work with the Texas Sealife Center rescuing injured or stranded coastal and aquatic wildlife. This service break will mainly focus on sea turtle rescue.

This summer, CALUE will travel to Costa Rica (May 21-30) to work on another sea turtle conservation project to protect nests from human poachers and beach erosion. The work of volunteers includes night patrols, hatchery shifts, collection and relocation of eggs, beach cleanup and reforestation.

"Even though the program is based around the service projects, we hope the students are getting just as much out of the experience when they are meeting new people, seeing new places and embracing the community they are helping serve," Proctor said.

For more information about the upcoming service breaks, visit the CALUE website.