Rebuilding Hope in the Wake of Katrina

It was the summer as I was about to enter high school that Katrina hit. I remember seeing the pictures on TV, reading the stories in the newspaper, and hearing the heartbreaking stories of those who lost everything in the hurricane. Living in an affluent area of New Jersey, I was unaffected by the tragic event, yet I still felt the pain of these people. I couldn’t imagine losing everything, especially not as a result of something as unpredictable as extreme weather, and I wanted to do something to help.

Two summers later, I was given that opportunity. My church youth group went on a mission trip to New Orleans, where we helped rebuild houses that had been destroyed by the storm. We worked with a non-profit group named Service International and were stationed in the attic of what used to be a megachurch, but had been badly hurt by the hurricane and was now serving as a storehouse for all the building equipment and donated and salvaged furniture. While it was sad to see what had used to be a huge, beautiful church turn into a dark warehouse, it was at the same time uplifting: it was still a house of worship, but instead of worship in the form of spoken prayers, it was serving as a real-life prayer and blessing for so many people in the area.

At the worksites, I hung drywall, painted walls, and cleaned worksites along with many other people from all over the country who had been coming together since the event to rebuild the lives of those affected. I couldn’t believe that almost two years after Hurricane Katrina, there were still countless abandoned and destroyed homes, and still so many families living in the FEMA trailers they had been given (which were supposed to be temporary); it looked as though the storm had just hit the week before.

What touched me the most was how thankful the locals and owners of these homes were for our help. They would come talk to us as we worked and thank us; one older man started crying when he thanked us for fixing up the home that had been in his family for years. I felt like I was doing something truly meaningful and giving of myself to serve others, and I learned just how much an act of kindness can mean to someone.

Unfortunately, not long after my experience in New Orleans, the non-profit group that we worked through had to pull out of the area, and more and more of disaster relief groups did as well. The reason was that people, seeing Katrina as “old news,” stopped donating money to the organizations, and donations were all these groups had to operate with. To this day, New Orleans is still not entirely fixed up, and it’s been over five years since the storm.

My experience rebuilding homes after Hurricane Katrina was extremely rewarding, and I strongly encourage other students and young people to get involved in whatever way they can to help out others; there is nothing like the feeling of giving of yourself to those in need. I went with a religious group, but those are not the only types of organizations that provide ways to volunteer. I encourage students to explore the many organizations right here on campus, like Habitat for Humanity or International Student Volunteers, and see how they can get involved in helping others. There is no act too small to make a difference.

–Lauren Mendelsohn, sophomore

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