Bill is preparing for his ninth trip to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina. In March 2006, he stayed and worked in St. Bernard Parish. Over 1,3000 volunteers from all over the world lived at a FEMA camp next to the the Chalmette National Cemetery and spent their time gutting waterlogged homes. It wasn’t all bad, though; the fried chicken was great and he began absorbing New Orleans music and culture. This experience was incredibly rewarding and help plant the seed for the development of the New Orleans course.
In 2007, he stayed at Camp Hope in St. Bernard Parish with 36 UNH students and another 600 volunteers from across the country. The group included five volunteers from the first installment of the New Orleans course. They worked mostly in the Upper Ninth Ward in and around Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians’ Village.
In 2008, Bill received permission to make the Gulf Coast trip mandatory for students in his class. During spring break, he and nearly 50 UNH students (including the 20 students in his New Orleans class), went to the Gulf Coast and spent a week working in and about Waveland, MS. They made many planned (and unplanned) trips into New Orleans, saw an ex-President (Clinton), Brad Pitt, various parades, listened to music, and took in the sights and sounds of this unique American city.
A year later, Bill and his class went to New Orleans and worked for Operation Helping Hands, an agency of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The group included his class of 21 and six student leaders, five of whom were veterans of his class. The 2010 edition of the New Orleans class also worked with Operation Helping Hands. All six 2010 student leaders are veterans of his class and New Orleans-related service learning trips.
The 2011 trip was a great success. In additional to the New Orleans class, eleven other students joined the UNH crew working with Operation Helping Hands. The weather was great, the work rewarding, and all left with an appreciation of a great American city. Bill returned to Louisiana in June 2011 to present at a conference and had the chance to work a couple of days with Operation Helping Hands once last time.
In 2012, Operation Helping Hands was on hiatus, so the class worked across Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish. Groups were once again coordinated through UNH-ABC, working with local chapters of Habitat for Humanity and staying in housing provided by the Peace Lutheran Church in Slidell, LA. The trip enabled students to learn about a different part of the region, but we missed working in the neighborhoods of New Orleans.
2013 will be different in a couple of ways. For one, the class trip is no longer part of UNH-ABC; it is operating independently under the auspices of the UNH Office of Community Service and Learning. In addition, all student will be working and living in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. We will be working with lowernine.org and assisting with after school programs with at the All Souls Episcopal Church.
In his first two post-Katrina trips to New Orleans, Bill never managed to write about his experiences. And because he requires his students to keep a journal, this blog began in 2008 as an attempt to rectify those sins of omission. Yet, it has become something bigger than that; as of January 2013, it has received over 54,000 views with half of those coming in the past year.
There is also a Facebook page for the class and for survivors of the class.