Boost from students gives struggling New Orleans hope

By Ashley Cook Megan Pellegrino
January 31, 2008

Two and a half years ago, 2312 Gina Drive, La. was a place where Edna Guerra called home. Today, 2312 Gina Drive is nothing more than an empty lot holding a FEMA trailer that is not much larger than a walk-in closet. This is one of the many repercussions of Hurricane Katrina.

“A lot of days I cry. My heart is broken, and I try to be happy. But sometimes, there’s moments I just can’t take it anymore,” Guerra said.

The devastation from the 2005 storm remains in many sections of Louisiana. Street numbers line the curbs yet there are no houses to claim them. The stench of mold, mildew and stagnant water still linger through the air. Even on the sunniest day, no squirrels scurrying, birds chirping or children laughing can be heard.

However on Jan. 8, the silence was broken with the whack of a hammer and the screech of a saw.

With open arms, St. Bernard’s Parish, roughly 45-minutes outside of New Orleans, welcomed six Cabrini students and other volunteers. Ashley Cook, Kasey Minnick, Megan Pellegrino, Jillian Smith, Jackie Turchi and Grayce Turnbach participated in Warren County, NJ’s Habitat for Humanity’s youth project where they helped rebuild what Katrina had destroyed.

“I knew day one was going to be tough,” Grayce Turnbach, junior english and Communications major, said. “But I came here to help this women who had lost everything.”

On their first day of work, WCHFH and the six Cabrini students pulled up to 2312 Gina Drive not knowing what to expect. Moments later, the group was met by Guerra, or “Miss Edna” as they called her, where the emotional side of the storm sunk in.

For the next four days, the volunteers put all their sweat, blood and tears into moving Miss Edna from her cramped FEMA trailer into a beautiful new house she would soon be able to call home.

“I just wanna stop, my wrists hurt so bad, but I can’t,” said a WCHFH volunteer, Shamera Washington, after hammering a nail into the floorboard. “I know if I stop, Miss Edna will be the one suffering. I have to help her, I can’t just give up.”

When neighbors saw Habitat for Humanity volunteers beginning Guerra’s house, they soon became another set of helping hands. Nicky Alfonso, 42, Guerra’s next-door neighbor, took a week’s worth vacation from work to assist in the rebuilding of Guerra’s house. He soon became the volunteers’ “go-to-guy” for all their construction problems.

“It’s obvious a lot of these kids haven’t even picked up a hammer before, but they’re here regardless,” Alfonso said. “This isn’t just doing Miss Edna good, it does me good too. It lifts my heart; I feel so grateful.”

Throughout the week, the volunteers had proven that Miss Edna’s house was their top priority. Not even Louisiana’s pouring rain would hinder their dedication.

On the last day, volunteers refused to leave until the last floorboard of Guerra’s house was in place. Finally, at 6:47 p.m. Guerra hammered the last nail into her new floor. The flooring and foundation was finally complete. Volunteers, neighbors and Guerra celebrated by having the cupid shuffle on the floor, a Habitat for Humanity tradition.

“I may not be rich with money, but I’m rich with friends,” Guerra said.

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Ashley Cook Megan Pellegrino

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