The May 2008 Katrina Recovery Team has arrived home successfully. Please read the emails they sent home each day to family and friends.

Friday, May 9, 2008

We're just finishing up a long day of travel to Louisiana and our home base at Camp Hope in St. Bernard Parish. (Parishes are what the rest of us call counties.) With only a few minor snags on the way, thanks to Delta baggage policy, we made the trip to Camp Hope safely and in a relatively timely fashion. When we arrived to this ex-school, we were given the grand tour which included warm water showers, flushing toilets,bunk rooms and internet access...what more could you ask for? The school actually had 8 feet of water in it following Hurricane Katrina and has since been turned into lodging and staging center for volunteers that have come from all over to help with the recovery efforts. The population here is just a third of what is was pre-Katrina so the schools have consolidated.

Following a sumptuous dinner of pizza and salad in the cafeteria, the teams broke up into their respective rental mini vans and went on a tour of the lower ninth ward and the St. Bernard Parish, the areas where Katrina's onslaught wreaked the most devastation. There was a lot of TV coverage during the aftermath of the Lower Ninth Ward which is part of New Orleans. St. Bernard is just across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter and 100% of its homes, and buildings were under water when the levees broke.

Now after a long day, we are settling into our new home and preparing for a long day of work in the ninth ward to come.

Goodnight from Camp Hope

Doug Maynard, Class of 2010

Saturday, May 10, 2008

This morning we got an early wake up call and all got ready for our first day on the job! We headed to the Upper Ninth Ward to work with Habitat for Humanity and help them prepare for the upcoming Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Week. Within the area we worked, there were 27 houses being built by Habitat. We worked on a block with four houses and did lots of fun jobs. Jobs included framing, building air conditioner stands, transporting wood, knocking slag off of new foundations, and staging wall formations. We were Helping the Habitat for Humanity crew and Americorp volunteers to get ready for the upcoming Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter blitz build this week. It's a special week devoted to finishing 300 houses in the Gulf Coast, including 27 houses to be built by the New OOrleans Habitat chapter.

After our day of building, we went on a driving tour of Musicians Village. It is a small neighborhood in the Lower Ninth Ward, were many local musicians and artist live. After the storm, Habitat and famous musicians - Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. - pushed to get the area rebuilt so musicians could return to the city and begin earning money again. It is now filled with dozens of colorful houses. Many New Orleans musicians and artists live in the new houses and are hoping music can help heal the city. On our way back to Camp Hope, we found a small shaved ice shack, that I am sure is to become a favorite of the groups! Everyone got shaved ice in many different flavors and I know it won't be the last time we stop there this week. After showering and realizing many of us were sunburnt, we are going to visit the French quarter this evening and experience New Orleans at night!

Sarah Surgala, Class of 2009

Sunday, May 11, 2008

We spent today in New Orleans to learn about the rich history and culture this city has to offer. This was important because not only did it give us a chance to interact with locals, but also to see how much this city has recovered for those of us who are returning for the second time.

In the morning, we went to the Cabildo, the old city hall, which is now a museum and where the finalization of the Louisiana Purchase was signed. The mmuseum has a special exhibit of photographs taken right after the storm of the Lower Ninth Ward, where Hurricane Katrina hit the hardest, in addition to other devastated areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. This exhibit also displays the salvaged remains of Fats Dominos' Steinway, the baby grand he had in his home in the Ninth Ward. It was a great feeling to see how much progress has been made since those pictures were taken, but from what we have seen driving through the lower ninth ward, there is still so much more to do here. The commercial areas down town are for the most part up and running and tourists who don't venture too far from the French Quarter might not see much storm damage, but the outlying residential neighborhoods are still in great need.

After the museum, our group drove up to the Garden District to meet Carla Robertson, a Bucknell alum, talk about her experience of Hurricane Katrina in addition to how the school system was affected by the storm. Carla works in an all girls independent public school in the Garden District and described to us the set-up of the school system in New Orleans. She has been a recruiter for Teach for America and a new project called Teach NOLA that hires young first time teachers to work in districts with high poverty rates. New Orleans schools have been notoriously under-resourced and even before the storm, corruption and mismanagement was about to have the state take over leadership of the city schools. Now that the school age population has dropped significantly because of displaced families, and so many schools were rendered unusable after the flooding, many families have enrolled kids in charter schools.

For the rest of the day, our group split off to explore the food and culture of the city. We had all types of Po-Boys, which are similar to subs filled with fried seafood, and some of us even sampled fried alligator for the first time. It tasted like chicken. The jazz clubs were a big hit for the group leaders, and the majority of the group ventured to Cafe du Monde at some point for Beignet (fried donuts with powdered sugar on top) and some Cafe au Lait (coffee with milk).

All in all, today was a great day of learning about the culture we're helping to preserve. We had a lot of fun, but we're more than ready to get working again tomorrow.

Sherri Liang, Class of 2009, Co-leader of the Katrina Recovery Team

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Bucknell students woke up early at 5:00 AM in preparation for an exciting day. The leaders, however, were huge slackers and had to be dragged out of bed into a cold shower in order to wake them up. After some stubborn complaining from our group leader, Kristine, the students convinced the leaders to drive to the work site. The Bucknell group was up before the sun.

Once arriving at the Habitat for HHumanity work site, the kick-off for the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project shortly began. The work project is a week long event with "blitz builds". Habitat for Humanity will start and complete seven homes and turn over the keys to New Orleans residents before Friday. 24 other houses were built simultaneously and will be complete in less than a month. The Bucknell group was divided up among different work projects along with about 250 other volunteers. Most Bucknell students worked diligently throughout the day making the interior and exterior framing of the house. The leaders, on the other hand, were continuously caught napping under shade of the porch while sipping on some sweet tea and eating boiled crawfish.

Everyone learned a lesson today. Some of us learned how to hammer, while others learned how it felt to be whacked in the back of the head by a 2x4. For the most part, everyone felt that the most rewarding experience of the day was meeting with the people who were moving into the homes. Some Bucknellians were privileged enough to work with the future home owners. We all felt this made the building more worthwhile and meaningful. Talking to locals, such as Ms. Margaret ,who shared their first hand stories of surviving 15 foot water levels and camping out on their roof for 9 weeks, made us realize the importance of our work here.

We couldn't have asked for better weather today and we'll be getting a late start tomorrow at 5:45 AM to head to Mississippi, that is if the leaders ever decide to wake up and cooperate! In Mississippi we are slated to do some demolition work on a house that was damaged over two and a half years ago by the storm surge from the gulf. It has not yet been gutted and this is an important first step before rebuilding.

Southern Love,

Scott and Tina

PS: Tina pumped gas for the first time! Born and raised in the good old New Jersey :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today was an interesting day. Unlike our other days working with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, we drove an hour to Mississippi to volunteer. After all the talk about Katrina and the destruction it caused in New Orleans, I was pretty uneducated in the damage that it caused in Mississippi. Today was a great hands-on learning experience about the less publicized effects of the storm.

We helped to clean out a man's home which was different from building a house, but at least I didn't have a chance to bend or mess up any nails with my carpentry skills, HA. Another group installed insulation in a place that had been gutted. After that we visited a man by the name of Chris LaGarde an aide to Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor. Chris didn't evacuate since he figured his grandmother's house, where he lived had withstood Hurricane Camille in 1965 when he was a child. He gave us his story about the storm and its effects on the Bay St.Louis area, where experts estimate a 30 foot storm surge on top of high tide swept flood waters inland two miles carrying death and destruction, cars, houses, trees, and other debris with it. Chris and his sister's family watched and waited as water rose in the streets, their yard, and the lower part of the house and winds damaged the roof. Eventually they made it to safety by wading out of the water with four children in tow.

We then went to the beach about 6 or 7 blocks from Chris's house and saw the newly rebuilt railroad and highway bridges to Pass Christian. For miles along the shore there were empty slabs where houses once stood. As the sun set, we barbecued hot dogs, sausages and made s'mores. It was a good time and a great way for us to bond with everyone on the trip. Today was the day that I realized not only how much damage the storm caused, but also how much help is still needed. Unfortunately it cannot be fixed over night but we will continue to help.

Harrison Baker

PS. Scott and Tina think the leaders, especially Kristine, are great!

Today we got off to an early start as usual. We left Camp Hope at 6:45am for Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. We split up into two groups, one worked in Kiln, Mississippi and the other group worked in Bay St. Louis. Both groups insulated houses today. Unlike the previous two days of work, the groups worked on houses that were left standing after the storm. UUnfortunately today was much hotter than the past three days have been. Both groups had to wear long sleeve shirts, masks and safety goggles inside the ninety degree houses while insulating. We ripped down walls, tore up flooring and carpet. Everybody smelled pretty bad by the end of the day. The mosquitos were pretty bad as well today.

Once we were done insulating at 4pm, we went for a drive along the beach in Bay St. Louis . This area was hit hard by Katrina. As we drove along the beach we saw foundation after foundation with no house on top. We ended up at Chris LaGarde's house. Chris works for a Congressman in Mississippi, he told us his story and gave us a different perspective on the hurricane. Then we went to beach where we had a barbecue. The group bonded cooking hot dogs, sausages and s'mores over the fire. At the end of the day we took the hour and 15min drive home. Overall, today was a great learning experience for everyone. Insulating was challenging for most of us at first, but after a while we got the hang of it. We got to work with people who had very different experiences after the storm. Once again we were told how much our help was appreciated by everyone we met.

Lauren Weimkin, Class of 2010

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It was clearly the third straight day of work, since many of us struggled to get up this morning. After breakfast we headed over to the St. Bernard Project headquarters (our third organization) but not without a few direction difficulties. We had a brief orientation with Zach one of the co-founders from DC, to learn about the project, their work and how the storm affected the St. Bernard parish. Our group was split into two, the first did indoor work spackling and ddry walling while the other did mostly yard work and some painting. Though it threatened to rain several times, many ended the day with new sunburns and tan lines after a day of lawn mowing, weeding and bushwhacking. Some people made some quick trips to the dump and Home Depot with our site leader getting some supplies for the day's work.

After a long day of work, we returned sweaty, tired and hot to Camp Hope, to shower and get ready for our evening out. We headed to Lafayette Square for the free weekly Wednesday Jazz and Blues concert, which also included different food and drink vendors and local artisan gift stands. Everyone really enjoyed the music and local culture, and it was a great way to see the real New Orleans. After the concert we went to Jordan White's house for dinner as her parents were kind enough to host us. A rising sophomore at Bucknell, Jordan's a native of New Orleans and lives near Audabon Park in the Uptown neighborhood. We ate chicken enchilada casserole, gumbo, crawfish ettouffee, corn macqushoo and salad and for dessert brownie sundaes, pralines and blue and orange M&Ms. After a long day of work, music and delicious food, we all excitedly hurried back to Camp Hope to rest up for work the next morning back with the St.Bernard project.

Love from NOLA
Jordan White and Alexandra Hulme

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thursday gave us all a break from LLouisiana's sun and heat, as aggressive rainstorms sent us inside the houses in-progress. This gave us all an uplifting opportunity to see the refurbishing that is being done in a handful of houses within St. Bernard Parish. Some students worked with Dennis in learning to put up dry wall, mud, and sand; others finally dirtied-up their new work boots by painting interior walls. A small group worked vigorously to remove spackle from a tiled floor that was salvaged from Katrina's damage, as other cleaned some nearby houses. Later, we drove to the Rock'n Bowl, an aging establishment with lots of local color, for a night of bowling and dancing to live Zydeco music.

Today, the rain continued through the morning, but cleared up by the afternoon. Becoming increasingly exhausted in the early mornings, Harrison and Mahdi have been keeping us entertained. We split up again to work at a number of different houses within the Parish that are still suffering from the effects of the 8 feet of water from almost three years ago. One group removed nails from a house's frame to prep for dry-walling. In addition, they cleared out a homeowner's backyard that had been overtaken by hurricane debris and rapid growing-plants. Fortunately, we were able to get to know the home owner who stayed with us throughout the day. We learned that the house we were repairing was the home he grew up in and his mother still lived in. Ill from kidney failure, Al was grateful for our help and eager to tell us his story.

We've seen a great deal of struggle and hardship by the people of New Orleans; however they seem overwhelmingly appreciative of our work here and hopeful for the future. We all have been touched, changed, and motivated by our experience here in Louisiana and are excited to share what we've learned when we return!

Lauren Weinstein, Class of 2010