“Today, 25+ pairs of hands worked together on what will be a beautiful home for someone in need….Why doesn’t everyone do this?”—Ally Hayden ’14, while working in New Orleans, winter break 2010-2011.
The city of New Orleans has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Just ask Matthew Claiborne ’11, a life-long resident of Louisiana, avid volunteer and strong supporter of Oglethorpe’s Center for Civic Engagement. He met up with a group of OU students in New Orleans this past winter break to help in the rebuilding efforts.
“We’ve had several major storms, and I can honestly say that [the whole region] is certainly one to be proud of,” said Matthew, who lives in Opelousas, LA, about two hours west of New Orleans. “There has been a great sense of renewal in terms of our leadership, culture, and spirit.”
Even with all of the improvements that have occurred, however, Matt, along with many other residents of the Gulf Coast agree that there is still much work to be done—especially with respect to housing. That is why, for the past six years, Oglethorpe’s Center for Civic Engagement has organized a service trip to the New Orleans area, in an effort to help organizations from around the country rebuild some of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods.
Participants in Alternative Breaks agree to serve the city first and enjoy the city second. They also agree, regardless of age, to be alcohol and drug free for the entire week. The student volunteers stay in housing supplied by other non-profits in the area, and after full days of work, take the time to explore other neighborhoods in the city such as the famous French Quarter.
“Every year is completely different because of the different students, staff and volunteer work we are completing,” said Heather Staniszewski, assistant director of CCE. “I hope students are able to meet new students, learn more about the Center, see a new city…and gain new skills,” said Staniszewski, who just completed her fifth CCE trip to New Orleans that winter. ” Most importantly, [my hope is that they] learn more about themselves and how they contribute to the community.”
CCE’s group was assigned a home in New Orleans’ 7th ward, and, over the course of four days, the group handled siding, caulking, painting, and installing support to the structure. Outside the work site stood an enlarged photograph of the family who would live in the house once it was finished—a single mom who’d just finished her bachelor’s degree and her daughter.
“A lot of people don’t know how much it means to others when they take the time out to help,” said Matthew, who beamed at the sight of his classmates playing a part in the Big Easy’s revival. “After the immediate disaster, the whole city depended on the government for aid. But now, it is non-profits and young people from other cities providing the support. To see people using their break to help others—it means a lot.”