Gutting houses, St. Bernard Parish, March 2006.

The title of this post might suggest youthful drinking and exposing body parts for beads, but since Katrina, thousands of college students have gone to New Orleans during spring break to help rebuild a broken city. While much of the country wonders why the job is not finished, anyone who has been out in the neighborhoods in New Orleans knows the extent of the damage wrought by the flood. And that doesn’t even address the fact that New Orleans was in need of quality, affordable long before anyone had equated the name Katrina with a devastating storm.

Since March 2006, a few months after the waters receded, I have worked with dozens of  young people who have selflessly given their break from school to help others. They have gutted homes, cleared brush, landscaped, framed walls, spackled, scraped, caulked, primed and painted. And in the process of helping Gulf residents, they have learned about others far different from them…and I suspect they have learned a good deal about themselves.

House painting, Gentilly, March 2010.

Since March 2007, I have had the pleasure or working side-by-side with students from the University of New Hampshire. And from that year forward, students in my New Orleans course have been there; initially only a handful, but since 2008 almost every student in the class has made the trip. We have worked in St. Bernard Parish, Waveland, Mississippi, and in neighborhoods throughout New Orleans (Upper Ninth, Faubourg Marigny, Treme, Gentilly, and Carrollton). However, this year is going to be a little different.

We have very happily worked with Operation Helping Hands, a program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for the past three years. Alas, they have phased out their volunteer program.  So this year, the students in the the New Orleans course, in conjunction with the UNH-Alternative Break

Cutting soffit for eaves, Upper Ninth Ward, March 2007.

Challenge, will be moving across Lake Pontchartrain to work with Habitat for Humanity. Mind you, we will be a presence in New Orleans, but during the day we will be working with two different Habitat for Humanity  agencies in St. Tammany Parish. Our work will be centered around Slidell and Mandeville, Louisiana. And we’ll be staying at the Peace Mission Center in Slidell.  By the way, the volunteer accommodations and meals come highly recommended.

So on this day, as we celebrate a life of Martin Luther King, Jr., who spent his short time with us peacefully advocating on behalf of others, I look forward to working with another group of students who will generously give their time and creature comforts to move his dream forward.

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