Today: Feb 24, 2024

Spring Break: Clubs travel South to volunteer time

Monica Szakacs, News Writer:
During the spring break, Southern’s Habitat for Humanity chapter went to West Palm Beach, Fla. and the Newman Society went to New Orleans, La. for community service. Both organizations worked on a range of projects.
Before embarking on their journeys to new communities and warmer climates, members had goals they wanted to achieve during the spring break. Erin Dryer, President of Habitat, said her goal was for everyone to grow closer and become more as a family, since everyone except the executive board members are new this year.
“Experiencing a whole new lifestyle,” said Dryer, “meeting new people and getting a sense of how others are living down there, is something new we will all experience together and something we can bond over.”
Kelsey Gomola, Secretary of Habitat, said her personal goal for the trip was to be able to make a difference in the community they were working with.

Photo Courtesy Erin Dyer

“I hope that we as a group,” said Gomola, “can get a good amount of work done on the house we will be at for the week, and for our members to be able to get to know each other better.”
Gomola said she wanted to learn about the population her organization was working with and the general area. When people think of Florida, Gomola said the stereotype is usually elderly residential living and a great place to vacation.
“Not many people think of others who are struggling in parts of the state,” said Gomola. “It is astounding that homelessness and poverty really does affect all parts of the country.”
Gomola said this is her third year with the chapter, and she said she continues to enjoy working on the construction of houses for people who need a hand and are unable to afford housing.
Kara Hallisey, a member of the Newman Society, said she was looking forward to building new skills, friendships and exploring the city.
“I want to learn about the destruction that was left from Hurricane Katrina because you hear about it, see pictures, but it is different to actually be there and witness it.”
Coming back from the trip, Hallisey said before she got to New Orleans she thought they were going to build houses, but she said they worked more with the people of New restore homes but also restore the environment.
Hallisey said her favorite part of the trip was working with the Saint Bernard Project, which restores homes in New Orleans. She said volunteers were split into two groups to restore two houses. One group did mudding, spackling and put up drywall. She said her group did mold restoration from all the wood work and interior so new drywall could be placed.
“It was the most personal experience, because I got to help fix a family’s home,” said Hallisey. “Even though we aren’t professionals they really appreciate our time.”
Although this was Hallisey’s first year going to New Orleans, she said Southern’s Newman Society started going each year since 2009. She said the campus ministry developed a good relationship with the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in the New Orleans, where they lodged in the basement with air mattresses, running showers and a kitchen. Central and Trinity’s campus ministries also volunteered, totaling 25 students.
Dyer said it was rewarding to go to West Palm Beach. She said when they got to their destination people were not expecting to work on houses already built, but she said it was great to see all the accomplishments that have been made. Southern finished painting and trimming a house in two days.
“A lot of the kids felt accomplished, because for example UCLA worked on one house and they weren’t able to finish the trimming in one day, but Southern did an entire house in two days,” said Dyer. “It was great to see how fast and passionate we were to get the job done.”
Dyer said during a break, the group could see the neighbor was outside with garden tools cleaning up the front yard, which was directly across the street from one of the houses they were working on.
“It made us feel like we were making a difference,” said Dyer, “because the whole point of what we do is not only help the families, but help the neighbors and let them see that we are fixing up houses, so now do your part.”
Gomola said she was glad to be a part of the Collegiate Challenge, which is sponsored by the National Habitat for Humanity that is held each year for colleges’ spring breaks. She said it was a great experience for her to work with the organization called A Brush with Kindness.
“Southern and UCLA went on the fifth week of the challenge, said Gomola. “Total, there were about 10 colleges that went to West Palm Beach, but there were different locations as well for other chapters.”
She said she outside she painted of one whole side of the houses by herself, but overall she said she was proud of what Southern had finished.
Hallisey said the ministries worked with mentally challenged adults in a center called ARC for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
“What they do is take all the used Mardi Gras beads and place them in huge bags,” said Hallisey. “The mentally disabled go through them and organize them by color, shape, size, design and they wash them and re-sell them.”
Rebecca Goldstein, president of the Newman Society, said thousands of pounds of beads go into landfills every year, so ARC created the recycling program. She also said people drop off their Mardi Gras beads that they do not want anymore.
The New Orleans’ volunteers worked with another organization called the Green Project, according the Goldstein. She said their center is in a warehouse that collects recycled items from houses in demolition, such as doors, windows, wood, toilets, sinks and anything useable.
“All these pieces of wood and furniture aren’t going into landfills, rather they are going into someone else’s house at an affordable price,” said Goldstein. “Everything is separated into categories, even door hinges has its own place.”
Goldstein said everyone was separated into groups. Some pulled out nails from wood others measured windows and some people mixed same colored paint into bins to be reused.
Habitat for Humanity also worked in a similar shop. Gomola said they volunteered a day at a restore where they painted pods for the store that holds all the equipment, built shelves and measured doors.
Another day of work for the Newman Society was working in a green house where they grow grass for the marsh and wet lands that were destroyed, according to Goldstein. She said before Katrina there was not a lot of grass, because they built on top of the marsh lands. She said the green house’s mission is to rebuild the natural protection from water and wind.
“The area we worked in was City Park,” said Goldstein. “We were in knee deep to waste deep mucky water in the bayou wearing giant overalls, digging holes in the water and replanting some grass.”
David Ricard, treasurer of Newman Society, said each year has gotten better for him and this was his last year. He said he enjoyed putting drywall in the bathroom of the house his group was restoring the most. Ricard and another member were the only ones with experience in drywall, and both finished the entire bathroom during one day, according to Ricard.
“The grandson whose family’s house we were restoring, was working on the house rain or shine, night and day, whether there was volunteers or not at the house,” said Ricard. To see the determination on top of our determination— was greatly rewarding.”
Ricard said he learned about how families were split apart by being bused to different locations around the country, since there was a lack of resources over time in the Superdome.
One bus would go to Huston with a couple family members because of the lack of available seats, according to Ricard, while they thought the rest of the family members would be bused to Florida, but in actuality the route was changed to Illinois.
“It really strikes a nerve because they didn’t even know where family members were for maybe about 10 months,” said Ricard. “All they wanted was to go home and see their family.”
Goldstein said the group was told by a few people that post Katrina, the houses were side by side.
“We were walking around the lower ninth ward and it was just foundations and steps,” said Goldstein. “The thing that creped me out the most, is that the steps were steps to nowhere.”
Goldstein said the community was welcoming and nice to the volunteers. When Katrina hit, she said people were going to see New Orleans like it was a zoo, but residents just wanted help.
“A lot of what people need now is the reassurance that people have not forgotten about them,” said Goldstein. “Going down there and them seeing us helping them with the destruction and listening to their stories, is part of the rebuilding process.”
Habitat also learned about the community they were in. Dyer said it is a very beautiful place and different from New Haven. The Construction manager, according to Dyer, said they were in the ghetto, but she said it looked nice and had palm trees everywhere. She said once the group learned about the crime and poverty, it changed their stereotypes about Florida.
“It was deceiving to us because we were looking at it from the outside, but a neighbor came to us and he told us that his house had been robbed six times in the past month,” said Dyer. “So it wasn’t the greatest areas and you can tell the community needed our help.”

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