Wrecking Crew

Kenyon students return to Louisiana to continue Katrina cleanup.

A lot of college students head south for spring break. Not too many of them, though, pack work boots, rubber gloves, and government-approved face masks. That was part of the gear for some sixty Kenyon students, who spent part of their March vacation in Louisiana helping to clean up wreckage left by Hurricane Katrina. More than six months after the storm hit, there was still a monumental amount of work to be done.

It was a return trip for some of the students. During the winter break in January, forty-one Kenyon students and several faculty and staff members had spent a week volunteering with the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. "Everything was still destroyed. It looked like the hurricane hit yesterday," said Matt Huber '08. The students shared photographs and their impressions of the trip at a presentation for the College community after they returned.

It was clear that the experience had moved them deeply. A slide show of the students' photos attested to the magnitude of the damage. "The place is a ghost town," students said. "People's lives are strewn all over the street, so exposed." "People were so appreciative of our help."

During the winter trip, the volunteers worked mainly on demolition--a rebuilding moratorium was in effect. They cleared debris and stripped homes to the wooden frames. They learned how to use sledgehammers and crowbars, and how to bleach the frames to disinfect them in preparation for reconstruction.

But the greatest legacy of the winter trip may well have been the students' feeling that they needed to do more. Hence the spring return trip, which included twelve students from the winter crew along with others.

One Kenyon contingent, including biology professor Joan Slonczewski, stayed in a FEMA tent, sleeping on Army cots and eating military-issue rations with 300 other volunteers. Another group, sponsored by the Black Student Union, the NIA sorority, and the student organization REACH, stayed in a motel in Metairie, Louisiana, with Assistant Dean of Students Chris Kennerly. During the day, work crews continued to strip houses to their frames. There were faint signs of improvement from January, but the city was still largely uninhabitable, with rebuilding on hold at least until late fall (after the end of the next hurricane season).

Huber organized the spring trip, raising more than $10,500 from sixteen different on-campus and community sources to cover expenses. "I'd never been on a service trip before. It got me really interested, and now I can't stop," he explained. "The volunteer community is just amazing, so friendly," he said, referring to other work groups the Kenyon students met in Louisiana. "Everybody's waving at everybody else. It's just like Gambier."

Spring Break Journal. Some sixty Kenyon students boarded a bus March 12 to spend part of their spring break helping to clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Among them was Lauren C. Ostberg '07, an English major from Maumee, Ohio. An intern in the Office of Public Affairs at Kenyon, Lauren kept a journal of her experiences in New Orleans over spring break. To read the journal, visit this website.

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