Ten Brunswick students, along with three members of the faculty, traveled to New Orleans, La., to spend the week working for the St. Bernard Project, a nationally recognized leader in disaster resilience and recovery founded following Hurricane Katrina in February 2006.
SBP has rebuilt homes for more than 950 families with the help of more than 100,000 volunteers in New Orleans, La; Joplin, Mo.; Staten Island, N.Y.; Rockaway, N.Y.; Monmouth/Ocean Counties, N.J.; San Marcos, Texas, and Columbia, S.C.
Here is a recap from the “Katrina Krewe” after its week of service in New Orleans:
Our final day started with an emotional story told by Earl, the chef at Annunciation. His story of endurance and perseverance — one involving his brave son dying in a Seal Team 10 incident in Afghanistan in 2005, and the other Katrina, which swept away all his possessions just two weeks after his son’s death — made us all reflect on why we are really on this trip.
Originally, we believed that the reason we came down here was to help rebuild the community and make an impact on the city. Through days of learning and understanding, we now realize that New Orleans has given us far more than we have been able to give it. Spiritually, physically, and mentally: We have all been deeply affected by this project.
The jobs given today at our work site consisted of touching up the exterior houses, clearing the landscape of debris, and preparing the interiors for furnishing. With each passing hour and at the completion of each individual project, we couldn’t help but begin talking about the possibility of families moving into these houses sometime soon.
That possibility seemed to fill us all with a good feeling — a feeling of hope. At the same time, it felt somewhat strange leaving the site for a final time. The job was finished, but we all left with an ironic sense of disappointment, as if we should be returning for one more day of work.
A couple of months ago, during our initial interview process, we were asked to join the effort to rebuild New Orleans as “individuals.” Throughout these five days, our group has grown not only as individuals, but as a team. The brotherhood created on this trip has been something that, we hope, will never become simply “a memory.”
We hope to never let these sights and experiences that we have encountered fade away, but to use the lessons we’ve learned to help shape our everyday lives. Like Father John said at mass on Sunday: “In life, we are constantly in a state of change”— we are constantly working toward becoming better, more natural versions of ourselves. Perhaps this is the gift that New Orleans has given us — the understanding that with change comes the opportunity to become more caring, more compassionate people.
At the end of the day, we gathered in the chapel, once more, to discuss what this experience has really meant to each person, individually. Each of us offered different perspectives, but as a group, we all shared the same belief that our “brotherhood,” our bond, made this trip truly special. In just five days, we have made bonds and friendships that, we are certain, will far outlast this trip.
In closing, we would like to thank our families and our community for allowing us to come here to make a contribution to a community that had been struck with such peril. And, we’d like to thank the city of New Orleans for the extraordinary gift it has given us.