News Coverage

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Twenty-four Saint Mary's College students who spent the past three weeks performing hurricane relief work in New Orleans received a hero's welcome on their return to campus Thursday, Jan. 26.

As the students loaded out of airport vans, they were greeted with Mardi Gras leis and roses by a campus welcoming committee that included Brother President Ron Gallagher.

The students worked throughout the college's January Term clearing debris from parks and helping people clean out their flooded homes. The group lived on a sleeper bus and documented their experiences every day in an online journal.

"It was hard to leave New Orleans," said senior Kayla Banion. "By the end we felt really attached to the city and to the families we helped there. But now being back on campus, I feel overwhelmed."

It was also an emotional homecoming for Associate Professor Shawny Anderson, who designed and led the course titled "Bridges to the Bayou: Direct Hurricane Relief in New Orleans." Following a group photo, a tearful Anderson told the students: "This was the perfect way for this to happen with this group coming together...we'll remember it for the rest of our lives."

The group's online photo journal can be found here! The students will present multimedia presentations of their trip on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Soda Activity Center.

-- Debra Holtz
Office of College Communications

Media Coverage: SMC Students Clean up, Green up New Orleans

The experiences of 24 Saint Mary's students who spent three weeks in New Orleans in January doing hurricane relief work were documented on several television newscasts and newspaper articles.

KGO TV broadcast a report at 6 p.m. on Feb. 7 that included the students' observations about New Orleans as well as footage of their work shot by videographer Marcia Ong '02. KPIX TV aired a report on its 5 p.m. newscast on Feb. 6 that followed the students in New Orleans as they gutted houses badly damaged by flooding, "learning lessons you rarely find in books." Newspaper articles about their work also ran on Feb. 3 in the Contra Costa Times, on Jan. 26 in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, on Jan. 26 in the Valley Times in Pleasanton, and in the Jan. 23 edition of the Catholic Voice.


Students Bear Witness to Hurricane Katrina


In words, tears and vivid images, 24 Saint Mary's students described their experiences performing hurricane relief work in New Orleans during a special presentation at the college on Feb. 8, 2006.

The students presented a multi-media show to a packed audience at the Soda Center to wrap up their Jan Term class, "Bridges to the Bayou: Direct Hurricane Relief in New Orleans." Excerpts of the students' online journals flashed on a large screen at the start of the show, and the audience greeted the students with a standing ovation.

During the three-week trip, led by Associate Dean of Liberal Arts Shawny Anderson and videographer Marcia Ong '02, the students slept in a converted bus parked in an empty lot and cooked meals in a nearby dining tent. Much of their time was spent gutting flood-damaged homes and planting gardens.

A series of photo montages created by the students and a film documentary by Ong documented their experiences in New Orleans, conveying images of destruction and determination, sadness and hope: hurricane-ravaged homes, the students working in brightly colored hardhats, wrecked possessions piled up in front of houses, and gardens beginning to bloom.

"I had no idea things were still going to be this bad," said sophomore Emily Robbins, interviewed on the bus in New Orleans for the documentary. She described many of the city's devastated neighborhoods as "frozen in time" in the months that followed the Hurricane Katrina.

Yet the students said they were inspired by the determination of the New Orleans residents to rebuild their city.

The slide shows and video featured voiceovers by hurricane survivors, many of whom lost everything: "As far as getting back to normal, normal is gone…material things no longer matter," said one. "I think Katrina was cleansing in many ways, cleansing in the sense that we all look and think so differently now," said another.

One of the New Orleans residents helped by the students, an elderly woman named Rosie, called in during the program as one of a few "surprise" guests linked in by audio hook-up. She thanked the students, recalling them as "angels marching single file off a chartered bus from California."

Describing the time she spent with the Saint Mary's group in one of the film's interviews, Rosie said: "It's got to be a little bit like heaven will be like, where everyone loves each other."

-- Debra Holtz
Office of College Communications

SMC Student Relief Workers on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"


The Saint Mary's Katrina relief team was lauded by Ellen DeGeneres during her nationally syndicated show on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The show focused on New Orleans at Mardi Gras.

Associate Dean of Liberal Arts Shawny Anderson, who led two dozen students to New Orleans for a Jan Team class "Bridges to the Bayou: Direct Hurricane Relief in New Orleans," was the first audience member interviewed by DeGeneres. Anderson related how the students put in 4,000 hours of work clearing 23 destroyed homes and helping restore parks, monuments and community gardens.

Anderson said she was pleased to be able to share the results of the team's hard work, and hoped to inspire other teachers and students.

"We didn't really care about the publicity factor," she said. "We really hoped the show would give us a way to inspire others, to show that it is possible to make a difference. It's hard, but it can be done."

Allison Arkfeld, a 19-year-old sophomore psychology major, was thrilled to be part of an audience filled with other relief workers and citizens of New Orleans, a city she came to think of as home even though she had never been there before January.

"It was fun to enjoy the company of the class, have a good time in the spirit of Mardi Gras and celebrate New Orleans and the culture it had," she said. "I wish I would've seen it as it was before, but I plan on going back. Hopefully it will become a city as it was before, or even better."

Arkfeld, Anderson and others involved in the relief work said that although it was physically and emotionally difficult, it was a life-changing experience and the best thing they've ever done.

"I'm a lot more grateful for everything I have, for where I live, for my family," said 19-year-old sophomore Fernando Campos, a business major. "After the hurricane, I was trying to find a way to give back."

Information about the show can be found online at:

Information about the Hurricane Relief course can be found at here.

-- Erin Hallissy
Office of College Communications