Twenty-five students helped restore 15 houses during their January term course in New Orleans, marking a return to the Big Easy where other Saint Mary's students and Associate Dean of Liberal Studies Shawny Anderson worked on relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
During a multimedia presentation in the Soda Center last Thursday, the students talked about the work they did and showed some of the results, which the students documented in more than 12,000 photos, numerous videos (some posted online at YouTube) and in journals and a website.
"We were blessed to live in New Orleans for 22 days," said Feke Lauti. "There is such a desire in the people there to rebuild and go home."
The group worked with charities and nonprofits, such as Habitat for Community, Catholic Charities and Parkway Partners, and returned to some houses that the 2006 "Bringing Back the Bayou" class worked on. While the 2006 class focused mostly on gutting houses that were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the 2007 contingent spent more time rebuilding by painting, sanding and dry walling.
"The work was filled with tedious steps," said junior Aaron Arnold. "It was grueling, but it was through the little things that we found something special."
Arnold's group learned while rebuilding the houses that even small details were critical, inspiring them to make a video titled "The Little Things," which was played at the presentation.
Arnold's group was one of five, each with its own name and work assignments. The teams made three videos, and all the students documented their experiences in journals.
"We knew we wanted to transform some things about ourselves and the city so we named our team 'The Transformers,'" said senior Brianna Hardy, who also worked in New Orleans during the 2006 Jan Term.
Students helped transform Sarah Mercadel's house in the Ninth Ward. At her request, the students painted the house's exterior bright green, which thrilled the nearly 70-year-old woman. Mercadel was one of a trio who were telephoned during the presentation, with the conversations broadcast over the PA system.
"I thank God for every little thing," said Mercadel, who is still living in a trailer nearly 18 months after the hurricane, said. "I believe everything is going to work out. You just can't rush things."
Several students would love to rush back to New Orleans though. Discussion about a spring break trip to Louisiana have already started amongst the group.
"Tonight is not about us," Lauti said. "It's about the great people in New Orleans that we have grown to love."
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