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For most college students, spring break means relaxing on a beach and getting away from school.
However, one group of UT students used the week to give back to a community in need.
For this year’s P.E.A.C.E.-sponsored ASB, or Alternative Spring Break, 15 students and one UT staff member drove 12 hours to New Orleans to refurbish a home for a Hurricane Katrina Victim.
Stationed in Broadmoor, a suburb in the downtown New Orleans area, the students refurbished a house, scraping, priming, and repainting the interior and exterior.
The students worked with Rebuilding Together New Orleans, who managed and coordinated the project. This volunteer-based organization is nation-wide and work to rebuild home for the elderly or disabled.
During this week, the students stayed in a nearby suburb of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, where the hurricane hit hard.
Camp Hope was their lodging site, which is the largest volunteer camp in the U.S., housing college groups and others such as Americorps, Habitat for Humanity.
Working nearly eight hours each day, with a Friday half-day, the UT students had the night to venture into the city to experience the distinct culture of New Orleans such as going to an NBA Hornets game and exploring the French Quarter.
Junior Tiffany Swanson enjoyed the trip.
“We gave back to the people down there and it was so warming to see the appreciation on their faces with what we were doing there,” she said. “They were very loving towards us and kind.”
One student in particular spent her time planning and making sure the trip went smoothly.
Junior Katrina Vidal is the P.E.A.C.E. Volunteer Alternative Spring Break Coordinator. This is her second year with the position, as she coordinated last year’s trip to Meridian, Mississippi.
In addition, Vidal plans weekend and international trips, such as last year’s trip to the Dominican Republic and Kissimmee.
“My goal next year is to add another weekend trip (totaling one each semester), a one week winter break service trip, and two Alternative Spring Breaks going on at the same time,” says Vidal.
She says that this is due to the increase in demand for these trips among UT students. In addition, Vidal writes applications, schedules accommodations, and plans educational activities for these trips.
Not just any student can go on these trips, as there is an application process.
For the ASB trip, students were asked to submit their applications by the end of last October.
There are only a selected amount of spaces available for ASB trips, so applicants are graded upon their responses to questions and their desire to volunteer.
In addition, alternates are chosen in case someone is unable to attend.
“Hopefully, with the addition of a second ASB we won’t have to turn anyone away next year,” said Vidal.
Students found out about their application results shortly after their application submission.
Choosing New Orleans this year was easy, as this city is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina nearly three years ago. Vidal went there last summer to volunteer and knew she had to bring UT students there to see the destruction.
“Some of the houses we went into in full protective gear, including respirators, people were still living in, because they had nowhere else to go. There was mold in the walls up to the ceilings. It’s not fair what these people have had to go through, with little help and support from the government or insurance companies,” said Vidal.
Vidal expressed the progress UT students made, “When we started, the house looked torn up. The exterior paint of the house was chipped, and the water damage and devastation of Hurricane Katrina was evident. As a team, we were able to complete the entire interior painting of the house, as well as scraping, priming and painting the exterior of the house with the trim.”
The volunteers repaired a home for Ms. Rodriguez, who has been living in a trailer next to her house since a few months after the hurricane.
Vidal expressed how the volunteers created a common bond while working, “We became a team as we worked together. We were also inspired by volunteers that came by the house, and didn’t pick up much of the slack. At the end of the week we were so proud and accomplished of what we had done.”
Swanson discussed why helping out in New Orleans was important to her.
“When Hurricane Katrina happened to the people of New Orleans, it happened to us all. This impacted all of us, no matter how much people would like to disagree with it.”
UT’s Assistant Director of civic Engagement, Casey Stevens, attended the trip as an advisor for P.E.A.C.E.
She oversees Vidal’s planning process and makes sure students are engaging in educational activities while on the trip.
“Overall, it was an impactful trip for all participants including me. I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect going to New Orleans and were shocked at how much devastation Hurricane Katrina brought to the lives of so many people.”
Students interested in ASB 2009 should look for fliers next fall.