Giving up the last week of their semester break, fourteen students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges traveled with Ave Bauder ’81, Director of Public Service at the Colleges, to St. Bernard's Parish (County), near New Orleans, La. The student group included students of all class years, including Alysa Austin ’08, Erinn Cain ’08, Sherry Funke ’08, Vanessa Gorsuch ’06, Jake Gray ’09, Freya Hoffman-Terry ’06, Jennifer Newsky ’07, Ariana Nussdorf ’06, Jillian Petrella ’09, Kirby Rootes-Murdy ’08, Carolyn Smith ’06, Alexis Swan ’06, Sarah Trapani ’06 and Dale Watkins ’09.
Before going to the Gulf Coast, the group participated in an orientation program at HWS consisting of a detailed PBS Frontline feature, describing the hurricane and initial governmental response; team building exercises and a question and answer session with Karen Fouracre, a disaster volunteer with the American Red Cross. Bauder said the orientation experience was fueled by, “a combination of nervousness going into something that none of us had ever experienced before and excitement because everyone seemed so ready to do whatever they needed to do to help.”
The students traveled 22 hours to St. Bernard's Parish in two vans, stopping overnight in Louisville, Kentucky, and were shocked by the devastation that they encountered along their way. First-year Jillian Petrella reflected, “Everything looked as if it had been left that way the day after Katrina hit.”
During their five-day stay in St. Bernard's Parish, the group’s work consisted of gutting houses, cleaning and removing debris, shoveling mud and tearing down walls. The HWS contingent managed to finish work on two houses, taking a large burden off of the homeowners. Senior Vanessa Gorsuch described the work as “very challenging, but worthwhile.”
Although the work was physically demanding, the group was rewarded richly when they received a visit from each of the homeowners they were working to help. The owners were very appreciative, one bringing the group “King Cake,” a New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition, and the other offering an afternoon break of fried chicken.
The group returned to campus in time for the start of the new semester, but the efforts to help those who were devastated by Katrina are ongoing. Bauder expects to coordinate forums on campus and presentations to area schools and community groups about their experiences. In addition, he hopes to raise more money for the relief effort and send another group down to Louisiana as part of the Alternative Spring Break program.
During their time in Louisiana, Bauder, Smith, Cain and Trapani did a radio interview on WGVA, and Kevin Doran from WROC-TV Channel 8 in Rochester filmed a piece on the group’s work, which will be aired on February 1 and 3. They were also featured in the Parish newsletter and volunteer Erinn Cain was profiled by the Canandaigua Daily Messenger.
They will also talk about their experiences at 8:35 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1 on WGVA-AM, 1240 on the dial, part of Finger Lakes Radio News; and at the HWS faculty lunch program on Friday, Feb. 3.