Bill is preparing for his tenth spring break 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 and 2011 editions of the New Orleans class also worked with Operation Helping Hands. On both trips, all student leaders were veterans of his class and New Orleans-related service learning trips.
In 2012, Operation Helping Hands was on hiatus, so the class worked across Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish. Groups worked 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 the trip lacked working in the neighborhoods of New Orleans.
In 2013, the New Orleans the class moved back to New Orleans proper. All students and student leaders worked and stayed in the Lower Ninth Ward. Everyone worked with lowernine.org, which has been rebuilding homes in the neighborhood since 2009. Most students stayed and volunteered with after school programs at the All Souls Episcopal Church, while the rest stayed with lowernine.org. They appreciated the experience so much, that the class returned to the Lower Ninth in 2014 and stayed at Camp Hope in nearby Arabi, LA. The accommodations were comfortable, the work meaningful, and the learning immense. For that reason, the 2015 class will be returning to the Lower Ninth to work with lowernine.org and stay at Camp Hope.
In his first two post-Katrina trips to New Orleans, Bill thought about keeping a journal, but never managed to write about his experiences. And because he requires his students to keep a journal of their experiences, this blog began in 2008 as an attempt to set a good example and to rectify those sins of omission. He has since added a Facebook page for the class.