Nineteen students from Purchase College spent their Spring Break in New Orleans working with nonprofit organizations on deconstruction projects in the hurricane-ravaged city. Students gutted homes and deconstructed materials to recycle houses which would eventually be demolished. Another group of eight students assisted adults and children living with AIDS/HIV in Philadelphia. The students were in New Orleans and Philadelphia the week of March 11-19.
One group of students worked with ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations to Reform Now. They stayed at Camp Algiers, and slept in a tent with 377 people, all of whom were there to help out with various organizations. They worked from 9 AM to 3 PM everyday and in five days completely gutted four houses. Each house had its own story and contributed more memories to the trip and more reasons to keep working harder on the next house, according to the students.
“Gutting” a house included tearing down the walls and ceilings, removing fiberglass insulation, door and window frames, carpet and flooring, kitchen and bathroom fixtures and other furniture or personal items that remained in the home. Many of the items that they removed from the houses were covered in mold, some still wet from the flood waters.
There was a strong sense of focus and teamwork on getting the job done. As one group knocked down a wall or ceiling, another group would clean up the debris. If anyone needed help, especially with removing the wet carpets, there was always a group of people ready and willing to jump in.
Each house had its own story and contributed more memories to the trip and more reasons to keep working harder on the next house, according to the students.
The first house belonged to a man, who, as it turned out, was a famous radio personality. Among other things, the students found photos of him with Louis Armstrong and other notable jazz musicians of the era. In the second house, they found some military memorabilia, while gutting the first floor. The owner of the house was taken aback and moved beyond words when presented with the items. As it turned out, these were the only remaining items she had of her brother, someone she lost in the 9th Ward during the floods of hurricane Katrina.
The owners of the third house were an elderly couple and their daughter, who lived in a very tight-knit community and had strong relationships with the neighbors, one of whom was the pastor for the church across the street. While taking a break at the end of their third day, the students spoke with the neighbors who shared stories of their experiences with the floods. One woman spoke of her escape from her house in the 9th Ward as she and her two young children climbed to their roof for safety and then all three of them jumped to a neighbor’s and climbed to their second floor. She felt lucky having to be there for only two days. The final house left no stories, but the students gutted the entire three bedrooms, garage, kitchen, two baths and large living room in five hours.
The students who participated in the ACORN project were:
Chris Booth – Shandaken, NY
Casey Chandler – Woodstock, NY
Kayla Cohen – Rochester, NY
Sheila Fitzgerald – Troy, NY
Tara McGrath – Levittown, NY
K. Michael Myers – Rye, NY
Nicolas Peden – Claverack, NY
Timothy Reardon, Enfield, CT.
Jamie Trujillo – Nyack, NY
Amy Weng – Union, NJ
Another group of students worked with the Green Project, a non-profit organization serving Southeast Louisiana and the Mississippi Coast. The Green Project is an important player in efforts to rebuild livable neighborhoods, preserving both modern and historical buildings, and reducing the waste stream. Participants deconstructed materials to recycle some of the many houses which will eventually come down. The Green Project Store sells salvaged new and used building materials, paint, garden supplies, art materials and fabric. All of their materials are donated and would otherwise have been dumped in landfills. Students helped revitalize building materials and assisted the organization’s staff of the Green Project Store.
The students who participated were:
Adam Abdalla- Brooklyn, NY
Nathan Barron- Sandy Creek, NY
Alexis Della Costa- Kendall, NY
Joanna Firneno- Richboro, PA
Rachel Frank- Larchmont, NY
John-T Howard- Miller Place, NY
Michael Ippolito- New York, NY
Chris Miano- Port Washington, NY
Matthew Vanderlee- Webster, NY
In addition to the New Orleans projects, several students worked with MANNA, a not-for-profit, non-sectarian organization that provides essential and specialized services to men, women and children living with HIV / AIDS in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Central/Southern New Jersey. Participants cooked food and delivered meals throughout the Philadelphia area to clients of MANNA.
The students who participated were:
Meghan Brady- East Meadow, NY
Liam Dean- Rocky Point, NY
Blair Gershenson- West Babylon, NY
Katy Mitchell- Ellington, CT
Edward Prunoske- Rochester, NY
Denise Simone- Yonkers, NY
Crystal Tyndall- Setauket, NY
Dasha Weinstock- Bayside, NY