At 5 a.m. on Dec.13, Donius University Center bustled with people, luggage, coolers, pillows and blankets as 47 Maryville University community members—42 students and five staff members—prepared to leave for New Orleans. Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the group was making the trip to assist people who have not fully recovered from the effects of the storm.
The idea for this trip came from this year’s Maryville Reads book selection, Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, which tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the Syrian-American owner of a painting and contracting company in New Orleans who chose to ride out Hurricane Katrina in his Uptown home. After the storm, he traveled the flooded city in a secondhand canoe rescuing neighbors, caring for abandoned pets and distributing fresh water.
“After a 12-hour bus ride—where almost every person slept the entire time—we were in New Orleans on the perimeter of the French Quarter, unloading at the St. Jude Community Center and preparing for the activities of the week,” says Danielle Carter, director of Multicultural Programs. “With an orientation from Dave, the volunteer organizer, there was great excitement and anticipation. Dave allowed us to divide into three groups and each group would have their own specific projects for the remainder of the week.”
Group 1 divided its time between three different projects. The detail involved planting and pulling cypress trees to replant in the marshlands; visiting a nursing home; and helping paint and refurbish a house. Group 2 worked at Operation Nehemiah, the sponsoring organization, to prepare the third floor to house more volunteers. Group 3 worked on one house the entire week.
By the end of the first night of activities and the first day of work on blogger summed up the experience as, “New Orleans is wonderful! The town is full of life and you can never tell they were in such chaos just five years ago; but the fact is they were and we did our small part in helping to restore some of the order before Katrina.”
Alysha Kinney wrote, “… I am very excited that I get to be a part of my project because it is suited to my personality and skill set (limited as it is). We are also becoming friends, forming stronger bonds to those we already knew, and learning more about ourselves in the process. I am excited to be a part of this.”
In addition to the hours of community service, this group took full advantage of the New Orleans hospitality and its proximity to the French Quarter after long days of work. Karaoke at Cat’s Meow, souvenir shopping on Bourbon Street, bull riding at Bourbon Cowboy and, of course, a huge beignets and hot chocolate at Café Du Monde.
Participating students are developing a presentation about their experiences for the campus community.