[StBernard] WORKING HARD ON SPRING BREAK
westley at da-parish.com
Sat Apr 21 10:37:57 EDT 2007
WORKING HARD ON SPRING BREAK
Friday, April 20, 2007
By Santosh Rao
Special to the Gazette
While students across the country returned from spring break with tans and
collections of souvenirs, a group of 68 Hackett Catholic Central High School
students arrived home with bruises, bug bites and a fresh lesson in
For their ``Alternative Spring Break,'' the Hackett students spent five days
in Chalmette, in Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish, cleaning out and rebuilding
homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
Seniors Colin Thompson, 18, and Abby Gibson-Howe, 17, said the trip was a
second chance to lend homeowners a hand in rebuilding their lives from what
little they had left. Eighteen students, including Thompson and Gibson-Howe,
first visited the storm-ravaged area outside New Orleans during their spring
break last year.
``Last year was different because the homes were fresh from the devastation,
in a complete mess with debris and destruction everywhere,'' Thompson said.
``This time, the houses were pretty much done in terms that they had been
cleaned out, so we went in and did the finishing work.''
That work called for students to tear out damaged linoleum flooring, extract
nails from wall and ceiling studs, and remove rotting insulation and dead
wires, Gibson-Howe said.
``As time goes by, it's expected that people will forget the extent of the
damage that the hurricane left behind, but in the weeks and months following
it, it was all the media talked about,'' Gibson-Howe said. ``I can only
imagine what the homeowners felt when they returned to their homes and saw
that they didn't have so much work in front of them.''
School Registrar Pat Byrne, who coordinated both trips, said the deluge of
interest this year was a product of the experiences and excitement that last
year's group shared with other students during a school assembly in January.
``They got to share first-hand their experience of actually seeing the
devastation up-close, and being in the position to help those affected build
their lives back up again,'' Byrne said.
The trips were managed by the National Relief Network, which mapped out the
group's itinerary and work schedules. The Greenville-based organization has
been coordinating national relief programs in disaster-stricken areas for
more than 13 years. Each student and seven chaperones paid $474 for the
trip, which included food and lodging at a dormitory in an area state park.
Byrne said program coordinators in Chalmette were surprised by the group's
enthusiasm to get to work quickly on the cleanup and restoration efforts.
``I think we caught them a little off-guard because at one of the houses
that we were at, a college group had been there before us. Our kids took
down a double carport that those kids wouldn't even touch,'' she said. ``Our
coordinator said to me more than once: `What it is taking other groups two
days to do, your kids are doing it in one day or an afternoon.'''
Thompson and Gibson-Howe were hard-pressed to explain the group's
``We just knew that those homeowners needed our help because we were there
for only a few days,'' Gibson-Howe said.
Thompson added, ``we weren't even sure if we were going to be back at the
same house the next day, so we just wanted to get through all the work we
had to do in the time we had.''
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