|November 22, 2005|
Union students help rebuild NOLA schools
Rebuilding schools in New Orleans: A winter's break
An alternative Union College winter break program, "Katrina Relief: Rebuilding Schools in New Orleans," is set for Nov. 29 to Dec. 6, giving participants the chance to rebuild schools in a district where families have moved back, but buildings remain uninhabitable because of hurricane damage.
Twenty-nine students (out of the 110 who applied) were selected to take part in restoring Franklin High School and Lusher Elementary and Middle High schools in the district where Union College student Laura Eyman '08 of Zachary, La., attended school. The district hopes to re-open the schools by Jan. 17.
Union's student group will be accompanied by Todd Clark, director of Residence Life, and Rev. Viki Brooks-McDonald, campus Protestant minister.
New Orleans under water
The volunteers will paint, move furniture, set up the library and help with clerical tasks. Eyman's father, Carl Eyman, and a neighbor have offered the use of their New Orleans homes, which were not damaged. Currently, neither family is living there because of the school closings.
Funding for the trip was made possible through alumni donations, Union College student fundraising efforts, and personal contributions made by students, their families and Interim President James Underwood.
"This is a fantastic way for us to reach out and make a real difference," said Clark, "To have our work affect the local community of a current Union student is very special, and having Union alumni believe so much in the power of something like this that he or she would donate the necessary funds to make it happen says a lot about the spirit of the Union College community."
"Feeling helpless only makes us feel worse," said Brooks-McDonald. "Overall, this has everything to do with a whole troop of kids trying to respond to the destruction of a natural disaster."
To prepare for their journey, the group held meetings to discuss a variety of topics, such as cultural differences between the Northeast and the South, work site coordination, menu preparation and recreational options. Five subgroups were formed to fairly distribute responsibilities. One of the subgroups is in charge of documenting the entire process via journals, photos and video.
This effort is completely voluntary; students will not receive credit. Most who attended the last information session revealed that they had a feeling of helplessness while watching the events unfold on the television during Hurricane Katrina.
"Students expressed that they want to be a part of the recovery process in New Orleans. Their true intention is to help a distraught community, not just have something good to put on a resume," said Clark.
Students were asked to anonymously submit an essay explaining why they should be selected to go on the trip. Essays were read by committee members, who then made the selections.