As part of HWS Responds, a program of the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning, 13 Hobart and William Smith Colleges students and Director Ave Bauder '81, left on Friday, Jan. 11 for the two-day drive to New Orleans to work with Operation Helping Hands on reconstruction efforts.
While there, several of the group also took part in a national planning meeting of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, which is working toward the passage of legislation that will create 100,000 jobs to rebuild the area. With 42 other institutions across the nation, HWS was one of the sponsors of last springï¿½s “Post Katrina Summit,” which raised awareness about the continuing needs in the area and collected 100,000 signatures in support of the legislation. Hobart and William Smith students collected 1,000 of these.
This was the seventh time since January 2006 that HWS students, faculty and staff have gone to the Gulf Coast area to work in relief efforts. The students ranged from First Years to Seniors and hail from as far away as Oregon and Florida; for several, it was a return trip.
Junior Jacqui Sands of Rochester said it best for many participants when she noted: “After going for the first time last March, I am excited to be returning and this time actually work on rebuilding houses.
“Previous trips have included work on preparing structures for construction; this time, we got to build.”
The Bonner Leader for Civic Engagement and Political Activism in the CCESL, Sands was a key member of last springï¿½s petition drive and took part in the planning meeting, Sunday, Jan. 13 at Loyola University.
For others, like junior Will Beckham of Sewalls Point, Fla., it was a first-time experience. “This is simply something I feel called to do, and Iï¿½m glad I have the opportunity to join with this group to help,” Beckham remarked.
After an on-campus day of team-building and learning about the history of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, the group drove 10-1/2 hours on the first leg of its journey, to Christ Episcopal Cathedral in Louisville, Ky., where they spent the first night. The next day, they drove the rest of the way and stayed in a former middle school gym that has been reopened as a living space for volunteers for Operation Helping Hands, part of Catholic Charities with the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
On Sunday, Jan. 13, students who have been on trips before attended the planning meeting while Bauder gave the rest of the group an orientation to the city and the neighborhoods devastated by Katrina, such as the Lower Ninth Ward. The next day, they were divided into two groups and worked on putting up drywall and painting. The group returned to campus in time for the start of the Spring ï¿½08 semester on Monday, Jan. 21.
This was Bauderï¿½s fifth working trip to the area since the devastating hurricane in the fall of 2005, in addition to two conferences where he presented with HWS students and others about HWS Responds and the Politics of Disaster First-Year Seminar.
“This is such important work for us to do,” Bauder said. “It has an incredible impact on our students and I appreciate all the support we receive from the Collegesï¿½ administration as well as others — like the people of the Cathedral congregation in Louisville who allow us to stay and help make it all possible.
“I had not been down to the area since last March, so I was interested to see where things stand. This trip brought different work for us: construction. We got pretty good at taking apart a house in about two days. Now we needed a new skill set, and this was a really great group to be the first to do it from HWS.”