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UNH Students Spend Spring Break Rebuilding New Orleans

By Todd Szahun, UNH Senior, PoliSci Major
April 4, 2007

A year and a half after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the city of New Orleans struggles to remove the debris and provide adequate housing for the city’s residents, where the population is about half of pre-Katrina levels. More than 120 UNH students traveled to The Big Easy during spring break to lend a hand.

“It feels great to be able to help out here and meet other students interested in giving up their time for a worthy cause,” said freshman Rachael Bain.

Many of the volunteers stayed in St. Bernard Parish, an area that suffered some of the most extensive damage during Hurricane Katrina. As the eye of the storm passed over this low-lying region it unleashed a 25 foot storm surge that devastated the entire region and released over 1 million gallons of mixed crude oil from a local refinery.

“It’s a sobering experience to see the extent of the damage after so long,” said sophomore Sarah Rice who volunteered in lower St. Plaquemines Parish. “I just hope we have an impact here and people begin to realize that there is still a lot of work to be done.”

The students were housed in trailers, local churches, and at Camp Hope, a former St. Bernard Parish school converted to accommodate volunteers. Operated by Habitat for Humanity, Camp Hope is expected to host nearly 2500 students from over 80 colleges and universities across the country during spring break.

“It is refreshing to see the growing number of community-minded students looking for a more rewarding spring break experience,” said Aleis Tusa, communications director for the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

The main project currently being undertaken by Habitat for Humanity is the construction of a neighborhood called Musicians’ Village. The 8-acre site, situated in New Orleans’ Upper 9th Ward will consist of 70 single-family homes to go to displaced musicians from New Orleans and other qualifying Habitat partner families.

Musicians’ Village is a collaboration between Harry Connick, Jr., Branford Marsalis, and Habitat for Humanity whose centerpiece will be the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music,, named in honor of the patriarch of this family of musicians. It will feature performance spaces, practice rooms, and classrooms devoted to celebrating the music and musicians of New Orleans.

“It’s a shame that so many of people had to leave New Orleans,” said UNH Sophomore Stuart Dias. “As a musician it is unbelievably rewarding to be a part of bringing the people back and help maintain the legacy of music here.”

The trips were organized through UNH’s Alternative Break Challenge, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Campus Crusade for Christ.

Several of the students are already planning to return to New Orleans for spring break of 2008.

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