USF Students Help Rebuild New Orleans

new orleans A GROUP OF 15 University of San Francisco students devoted their spring break to rebuilding houses in New Orleans, the once vibrant city that students describe as a ghost town more than 18 months after Hurricane Katrina and flooding hit.

The group began its Arrupe Immersion Trip by attending an Ignatian Family Teach-In that examined the challenges facing post-Katrina New Orleans. “Rebuilding Communities: Facing Racism & Poverty” provided the students with an overview of New Orleans culture and the housing, employment, and community rebuilding issues it faces. The USF-based Ignatian Solidarity Network organized the teach-in, which brought together students, staff, and faculty from Jesuit colleges, universities, and high schools across the country.

hanging sheet rock After the teach-in, half the USF group spent four days insulating and hanging drywall in a house in St. Bernard Parish. Organized by the nonprofit St. Bernard Project, the work was part of an effort to rebuild the once close-knit community. The homeowner stopped by every day to thank the students, bringing crawfish and potatoes for lunch on their last day.

“It was just weird to be thanked for that because… why wouldn’t we go down there when we have the time off and can go?” said Katherine Lloyd, a senior communication studies major.

The other half of the group worked on the initial stage of the rebuilding process by gutting a house in a different part of the city. Organized through the volunteer organization Common Ground, the project required that the students wear protective gear because of the mold inside. The house had not been touched since the flooding, and the students’ efforts were a critical first step in making it habitable.

While the state of the individual houses surprised the students, they were also taken aback by the deserted nature of the city. Although the French Quarter was lively, much of the rest of New Orleans was desolate, Lloyd said. The city’s population is barely half what it was prior to the storm, and many businesses remain boarded up. Abandoned parks and houses line city streets, and in some cases, buildings are simply gone, leaving staircases that go nowhere. Like the house the students worked on, many homes have not even been gutted since the storm.

“I’d never been to a city in America that felt so abandoned,” said Lloyd.

USF forged a connection with New Orleans in the wake of Katrina when the university opened its doors to nearly 120 New Orleans area students affected by the storm. The students were able to continue their college studies at USF during the fall 2005 semester even as their universities were closed.

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