Today we had a planning meeting for the Alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans. ReachOut, an on campus service group at Columbia, has been going since the year after Katrina trying to help rebuild the damage done by the storm.
I’ve been to New Orleans and the surrounding area of Louisiana a few times. We have close family friends who moved down there and opened a fabulous restaurant (shout out to Taste of Bavaria!). My mom and I were actually in New Orleans a few days before Katrina hit. We cut our trip off early to avoid driving back through the rain.
I went with the group last year for the first time. It was an amazing experience and I had a blast.
While there I worked with the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, removing invasive species from the wild life. We worked at the Center and also went to National Parks to help clean up the area. It was amazing how much was destroyed not only by the storm but by the invasive plant species that would literally crush trees and take over ponds. It was a lot of fun working outside and learning about the plant life native to the marshes.
We also worked at Miss Bessie Montgomery’s house.
Miss Bessie lives in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. She cares for her nephew Jesse, who is severely mentally handicapped. Miss Bessie lost everything in the flood, the water reached the second floor of her home. Her insurance refused to cover the damage, saying the levee breaking was “an act of God.” Since Katrina, Miss Bessie and Jesse have been living in their FEMA trailer in Hammond, about 30 minutes away from New Orleans.
ReachOut helped build what we could. We managed to side, caulk, and paint three sides of her house. It was the most work done in three years. But the house still wasn’t livable (it didn’t have plumbing so we had to use the neighbors bathroom when we worked).
Miss Bessie cried when we showed her how much we had done. Art students usually don’t make the best carpenters but we sure did try.
Well we’re going back to Miss Bessie’s this year. Hopefully to build on what we’ve started.
We’ll also be working with AmeriCorps & City Year, Boys Hope Girls Hope, Second Harvest Food Bank, Jefferson Parish Juvenile Services (Rivarde School), Hospice Care of Lousiana, and St. Bernard’s Battered Women’s Shelter.
We’ll be staying at Camp Hope in St. Bernard Parish from March 23rd to the 28th.