The UIndy Serves program recently took a group of students from the University of Indianapolis to New Orleans to work on construction projects to help the community after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“They are now able to rebuild a lot of places, but they’re now lacking volunteers, since it has been nine-and-a-half years since it has happened,” said senior chemistry and biology major Evan Wadsworth. “Nobody is really thinking about the destruction that is still there, so there is really a big push for volunteers that a lot of people don’t think about.”
Wadsworth and recent UIndy graduate Ashley Stanford attended the trip as student site leaders. The students worked with a group called Project Homecoming, which is a non-profit organization that connects with individuals who were not able to return home after Hurricane Katrina affected their houses.
“Most of the families were not able to return home because of contractor fraud,” Standford said. “These contractors came in after all of the flooding . . . but what happened was they either didn’t do the work correctly, they didn’t finish the job, or they just took the money, left, and they did nothing. So all of the insurance that most of the individuals got from the government went to them [the contractors], and then they had no money.”
Project Homecoming teaches volunteers contractor skills to work on homes. UIndy students worked on two worksites on the trip, building a deck, painting, coping and installing doors and baseboards. The students also learned much about the community they were working in.
“The overall knowledge that we gained about how Hurricane Katrina impacted the community in New Orleans and the need for resources and for volunteers today as much as in the coming future, that was also a huge impact for our group,” said graduate student Troy Heffron.
Stanford said the stories she heard were mostly about the resilience of the people living in New Orleans and how the government and state did not help when the disaster initially happened. She said that what she heard was heartbreaking.
“A lot of people think that the disaster came because of the hurricane, but disaster actually came because of the reserves breaking,” Stanford said. “The humanitarians weren’t able to come into the city, and the people of New Orleans thought they were abandoned.”
Stanford said getting to talk to some people from New Orleans was a great part of the trip.
“They were the most uplifting people,” Stanford said. “It was interesting because of all the devastation they went through and the hardships of having to rebuild their city, they were very uplifting.”
Wadsworth also enjoyed being able to interact with some of the people he met on the trip, including one of his site managers.
“Everyday at lunch, we would answer a question. She would ask questions like ‘what is one thing that no one in this group knows about you?’ She asked it every week and got varied responses,” Wadsworth said. “I think her response is the coolest. She had this long, elaborate love story about her and a pro football player that she fell in love with back when she was in college, and their timing just never quite worked out. They still keep in contact and send each other letters, probably two or three times a year. It was just an incredible story to hear that.”
Wadsworth and Stanford encourage students to go on service trips. UIndy Serves plans volunteer trips for students during spring and winter break and began last spring break with a trip to Florida.
“It is an opportunity for students to do something over break,” Heffron said. “To travel, and to grow as a person and get connected to new students and new opportunities.”