As Easy as "ABC": Celebrating UNH's Student Volunteers
By Bill Ross, professor, Milne Special Collections and Archives
April 4, 2007
At Camp Hope, a former school in Violet, St. Bernard Parish. UNH students — with Professor Bill Ross — spent a rainy day building bunk beds for future residents at the camp.
A year ago, I traveled down to New Orleans during spring break as a volunteer
for Habitat for Humanity. The work gutting flood-damaged homes was physically
and emotionally draining, but the experience was rewarding, both for the
insights gained and the new friendships made.
I made the trip again this year, but my experience was quite different.
First, work along the Gulf has moved beyond clean-up to construction. And
second, I had the opportunity to work alongside 36 students who were among
the more than 100 students who volunteered throughout the south as part
of the UNH Alternative Break Challenge (UNH-ABC).
I am currently teaching a new inquiry course entitled “New Orleans:
Place, Meaning, and Context.” In my syllabus I invited students to
seek service opportunities in Louisiana during spring break. Seven of my
students accepted the challenge, five as part of UNH-ABC, one with the
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and another who traveled independently
to report on the volunteer efforts of his fellow students.
On March 9th, I traveled south focused both on the work ahead and on the
learning outcomes of the students from my course. What I did not foresee
was how much I would learn from them and their fellow students.
For one, I got to see New Orleans and Louisiana through a much fresher
set of eyes. From a student’s first walk down Bourbon Street, the
involuntary tapping of a toe to traditional jazz played at Preservation
Hall, to the first taste of beignets from Café du Monde; it all
took on new meaning.
UNH student Christina Stark works on a Habitat build in the Upper Ninth Ward, New Orleans.
And more importantly, I had the pleasure of seeing them in action as they
worked in Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians’ Village in the
Upper Ninth Ward, landscaping yards, constructing walls and flooring, and
painting – in essence, doing everything they were asked to do and
They volunteered for kitchen duty, built bunk beds for future residents
at the camp where we stayed, and thoughtfully interacted with the residents
of St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes; people who persevere in the face of
having lost everything. They insisted on visiting the desolation of the
Lower Ninth Ward, not to gawk as tourists, but to reflect prayerfully on
the destruction and subsequent diaspora of an entire, close-knit community.
And one-by-one, they asked why nothing has happened.
While many college students traveled to resorts or at the very least enjoyed
the comforts of their own beds during spring break, these students slept
on cots in a gutted school in rural Louisiana, ate previously frozen sandwiches
for lunch, and through it all, they had a great time. And in the process
they not only learned about another, vastly different part of the country,
but quite a bit about themselves, as well.
One of the groups of UNH students who worked at Habitat for Humanity's Musicians' Village in the Upper Ninth Ward, New Orleans.
In all, nearly 200 UNH students traveled far from home during spring break
to work on behalf of others. And while I wasn’t able to witness the
work and learning that took place elsewhere, what I saw in Louisiana should
give the university community much to be proud of.