Students, faculty return to rebuild New Orleans

Students, faculty return to rebuild New Orleans – 01/11/2007
Author: Shauna Keeler

Featured Brother: Delon McAllister

“For many, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been almost entirely forgotten.  However, for the 22 Union students and two faculty members that recently made the trip to New Orleans, the haunting images are still fresh in their minds.

Junior Delon McAllister, upon learning of the trip, was “”ecstatic to hear about the opportunity to go to New Orleans. I didn’t think twice about applying because I knew that it would be not only a great opportunity but an enriching experience as well.””

Viktor Olsan, of the Czech Republic, said “”we didn’t hear too much in the Czech Republic about what happened in New Orleans,”” and he attended the trip not quite knowing what to expect.  McAllister on the other hand, went to New Orleans “”with the preconceived notion that the people would be in poor spirits. However, the people that I was privileged to speak with showed only optimism.  This only accentuates the endearing and strong character of these New Orleans natives,”” he stated.

This is the second volunteer trip that Union students and faculty have taken down to New Orleans. The first group went down during winter break in 2005.

From December 3 until December 9, the volunteers began their days by waking up around 5:30 a.m., in order to be at the site by 7 a.m. “”They worked until about 2:30 every afternoon, which sounds like a short work day, but everyone was doing hard physical labor,”” said Professor Janet Grigsby of the Sociology Department, who spent the week with them.

The first day was spent “”gutting, which entailed moving all the debris out of a house,”” McAllister explained.  Grigsby described gutting as “”a difficult thing, because you’re trying to clean out all the garbage, but you also have to look for the important things to save.  Moving refrigerators were hardest to gut.  There is no way to stop them from leaking,”” she said.

McAllister added, “”the remaining days were split up into smaller groups to work on different houses. At each site, there was somebody in charge who explained the job and how to use all the tools.  Since it was volunteer-based, many people had no clue what they were doing. We visited Musician’s village and the 9th ward.  We serviced those areas mainly.””

Olsan recalled one instance while gutting, in which “”the people that the house belonged to watched as we gutted their house.””  He went on to describe how “”difficult it must have been for them.””

At night, they returned to Camp Hope, an old elementary school that had been flooded.  Volunteers ran this camp.  Grigsby explained their living situation for their time in New Orleans: “”It was very cold the week we were there. There was no heat where we stayed…there was minimal electricity and it was below freezing on certain nights.””

Through volunteering, these students saw first-hand horrifying images that many can only imagine.  Grigsby mentioned, “”we all got to see in real time the devastation and really understand how inadequate television and [media] are at showing how terrible it was.””

McAllister recalled, however, that “”some areas were in almost perfect condition and then others can only be described as piles of debris. Many houses appeared to be decent, but just the sight of the interior was disheartening.  There are still many houses that have not been touched since the hurricane. So, one can only imagine the odor and dilapidations those houses exhibited,”” he added.

For McAllister, the hardest part of the trip was, “”getting on the return flight knowing that so much more needed to be done.”” Similarly, Grigsby felt “”a lot of people came away as I did thinking that the work we did was so small, so little compared to what needs to be done.””

Although they felt more needs to be done to the area, students seemed to regard the experience very positively.  Olsan described the trip as “”the best experience I will have in the U.S.A.””  McAllister was very positively affected by the trip, stating, “”I definitely appreciate what I have much more.  We are all truly fortunate to simply call someplace home.  The trip to New Orleans not only exposed to me the harsh reality of life, it also helped me put things into perspective.”””

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