Hurricane Katrina gone, but not forgotten in Nola
While driving through the neighborhoods of New Orleans, it is clear to see that the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina, which hit over six years ago, still haunt Louisiana.
Boarded up windows, dangling electrical lines, vacant houses, and homeless folks filling the streets are still a sad reality for the members of the community. This year 13 Keene State College students participated in the Alternative Spring Break program by embarking on a mission to unite with the United Saints recovery project.
After two days of traveling, with a pit stop in Knoxville Tennessee, and a combined 27-hour total road trip, the team reached their destination. On the first day of service work the team was split into two. One group was sent to a preschool where they painted murals on the walls in hopes of creating a safe and welcoming environment for the children.
The second group went to a residential household that belonged to a 76-year-old woman named Delores L. Johnson, who had been living in the house for 12 years, but lost everything she had when the hurricane struck.
Johnson was in the process of having the entire house completely redone as water rotted most of the wood side paneling and caved the roof in.
The house was gutted and six Keene students helped paint the entire house. They had to get atop of ladders, which towered 30-feet high, and use the proper technique to assure the job was done well.
Johnson said, “Us survivors of Katrina are not financially able to do this work on our own, I appreciate what you do so much, it is just a gift from God, it is a blessing to have you beautiful young people to come in and help and do the best you can.”
United Saints Community Outreach Public Relations coordinator Sakura Koné stressed that the need in New Orleans is still apparent and it is vastly important that students are still volunteering to assist the people who have the least. The clients are on the lower side of the spectrum that fall within the poor.
They have been scammed by so many and merely do not have the resources to rebuild. Koné then explained that if the owners of the houses or buildings cannot show significant progress on the restoration of the structures, they will be fined $300 to $500 a day.
Since they are unable to afford it, they become so immersed in debt and the city eventually confiscates the property. That is why there is such a respect for the volunteers, they are not taking advantage of the community’s misery, but they are saving the area, raising the morale, and giving individuals a second chance.
Freshman Laura Heavey said, “A simple little task like painting might not seem significant, but it can really impact someone’s life. It is rewarding seeing the community so grateful for our time spent here.”
The ASB travelers made the journey to the 9th ward, the area that was impacted the most because of the levees breaking.
They also visited an above ground cemetery that had been submerged under water and suffered damage.
Many were taken back by what they witnessed. Senior Tarah Halloran said, “A majority of people take things for granted, seeing the kind of devastation people are living through puts you back into a reality check.”
The trip wasn’t all work and no play. When the ASB team wasn’t laboring at their sites, they were out exploring the historically famous locations of New Orleans and experiencing the legendary culture. Numerous trips to Bourbon, Frenchmen, and Magazine via trolley were made.
Walking down the main strip of Bourbon was an interesting experience to say the least. The street was teeming with life whether it was a Tuesday or Friday night. Strangers throwing beads from balconies, performers trying to make a living, and various other activities were amusing to observe. One night the team went out on the town and watched live jazz.
It was an opportunity to get a real taste for the unique music and help understand why New Orleans is so special. Dancing around and ‘funkin it up’ allowed the students to experience different customs and traditions.
Not only did the members play vital roles in helping out a distraught community, but they also had fun doing it.
Junior Kate Laskey said, “People shouldn’t even second guess filling out an application, they need to take a chance by going out of their comfort zone, meeting new people — who you will eventually form amazing relationships with, and get the chance to explore another part of the country.”
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Around 4 a.m., while 13 sleeping Keene State students were snuggled in their bunk beds at the United Saints apartment, a bone-chilling knock on the bolted door awoke the group.
Startled and confused, the group then listened to the mysterious NOLA creeper try to break in by attempting to put the access code into the padlock and bang the door again multiple times. As some curled up in the fetal position and others hid under the covers, they waited until the stranger left.
This was just one of the many life threatening situations the New Orleans Alternative Spring Break group was faced with. From Senior Matt Oakley nearly getting hit by a car going at a rapid rate in a cross walk to Senior Meg Gowan almost getting trapped in the metro station train doors, there was never a dull moment. The group always seemed to be getting their selves into some sort of wacky situation. One of the biggest scares was when a coach bus tore down an electrical cord and as a result, the wire cross-lined half of the team members near Bourbon Street. It looked like a scene from an action or horror movie as the students ducked and dodged the wire. Thankfully, no one was shocked and injured in the freak accident.
All of these circumstances may have been caused by the group’s obsession to eat the frozen yogurt at Pinkberry. Wild geese chases broke out and many miles were traveled on three separate occasions to find the locations of these stores and enjoy the treat.
Getting lost also seemed to be a bit of a habit. The GPS would always seem to take them the wrong way and leader Neal Brewster’s directions never seemed to be 100 percent effective or efficient either, but in all due respect, the group always did end up in the proper place.
For some reason, it was apparent that all of the other community service school groups at the site had something against Keene State, but they didn’t let that bring them down. If anything it made them closer as they had to make the best of their situations and ‘merp’ together.
Gallivanting through the cities entertained everyone, but a favorite night by many was the evening in which the team stayed in and played The Game of Things. All 13 were squished into a tiny kitchen. Due to the group being split up at the service projects, this was one of the few times all were together. The entire group laughed and bonded immensely.
The group was able to spend quality time together during the night as they went out on the town. They encountered some extremely interesting folks on the trolley rides and streets. A homeless woman stopped the group and gave some words of wisdom.
She said that the secret to finding a potential mate is to slap them with a lasagna noodle, but you can’t use the other ones because they break.
Everyone brought something to the table and a dynamic family was created. The trip wouldn’t have been the same if someone were missing. Group leader Brooke Wheeler said, “Everyone has a common goal and interest, generally the type of person that applies to these trips is the type of person who is willing to go out of their comfort zone and make an effort to have a community environment.”
An extra reason for the closeness was the long car rides. Thirteen strangers were required to be in close quarters for over 50-hours, and that is just traveling from New Hampshire to Louisiana. Senior Colter Beote said, “By spending so much time in the car instead of taking a two hour flight, it forces everyone to bond.”
Things in the car rides got a little loopy as people became so exhausted and delirious driving through the night. Strange conversations were brought up and individuals got to know each other on a whole other level. Beote added, “Overall, I just really enjoyed meeting a group of people that I probably would have never met if I didn’t go on this trip.”
It truly is a phenomenon how close people from different ages and backgrounds can become in only ten days. The members on the New Orleans Alternative Spring Break trip experienced some unexplainable events over the course of the week. Not only did they learn about a diverse culture, but also more importantly they learned valuable things about themselves and their fellow travelers. They shared an enormous amount of memories to be cherished for a lifetime.
Whether it be falling asleep to the sweet sounds of medieval instruments and the soft voice of humming, ‘praying’ in the church, babushkas, eating gecko tails and dollar bills, playing imaginary four-square, or watching one child drag their sibling on all fours across the main square, it is vital to remember that you only live once, #alternativespringbroke.
Kateland Dittig can be contacted at email@example.com