Through a series of unknown events, eight students and two faculty member found themselves in New Orleans, La. helping to rebuild a home for someone who lost everything during Hurricane Katrina.
“We were meant to go to New Orleans because we were originally supposed to go to Gallop and last spring I was in touch with the people in Gallop and starting in September, the guy wasn’t returning phone calls and I felt something was not right,” Father Carl Janicki, director of Campus Ministry, said. “The faculty made the contact in New Orleans and in a week, we had work to do and a place to stay,” Janicki said.
The group was initially set to travel to Gallop, N.M. to experience the unique culture but embarked on a journey to New Orleans on March 4 that changed many of their lives.
“I was surprised and a little disappointed that we were not going to New Mexico but my group members and I later realized that we were meant to be in New Orleans and God had a different plan than the plan we had for ourselves,” Felicia Melvin, senior communication major, said.
The group of 10 lived at Camp Hope, the largest housing development in the United States, for seven days and worked with Saint Bernard project, an award-winning project for home renovations in the lower ninth ward. During their time in New Orleans the group helped rebuild the home of longtime resident of New Orleans, Elaine Henry. Henry came back to the Big Easy for the first time in six years to meet the Cabrini students and faculty who were rebuilding her home. They also witnessed a house ceremony for another house that was rebuilt by Saint Bernard project. During the ceremony, all the volunteers gathered to welcome the home owner into her house.
“My experience was very insightful and inspiring. When I saw what we were actually doing for Ms. Elaine Henry, I thought ‘wow this a great deed you can do for someone’ but when I actually saw Ms. Henry, I was shocked,” Tracy Hyatt, junior education major, said. “Just being in her presence greatly impacted my heart. That’s when I knew that God truly did bless us with the tenacity and willfulness to reach our mission’s goal.”
They also went out locally to eat at Tony Po Boy restaurant, view the French Quarters
, visit the levies, witness the damaged homes from Hurricane Katrina, and speak to residents of New Orleans and hear their individual stories.
“It was a great experience and my first mission trip ever and it has made me want to go on more,” Michelle Kane, senior psychology major, said. “The best part of the trip was the welcome home party for Mrs. Patricia. It showed me how me being there really was making a difference and showed me that there really are good people left in the world and that people are so grateful for something we think is so small.”
The group also visited Cabrini High School and took a tour of a local cemetery. Many of the cemeteries in Louisiana are above ground. They then talked with the principal and teachers at Cabrini High School and heard the stories of how many of the teachers’ homes were ruined during Katrina and Cabrini High School had to be moved to Baton Rouge for a couple of months because of damage.
“They connected the Cabrini world between the high school and college,” Janicki said.
From this experience, many students’ eyes were opened to a world outside of their own. Some realized why they were led to come to New Orleans and others learned that there is a larger world and everyone has gifts and talents that can help people in need. Two of the students from the trip are speaking about becoming Americorp volunteers and lead a year of service upon graduation.
“I learned so much about construction work, I learned so much about Katrina, about the culture of New Orleans,” Rasha Sharhan, senior mathematics major, said. “And I will definitely go back. I am applying to an internship with St. Bernard Project for the summer and I am also applying to become an Americorps member.”
“I learned not to take the simple everyday things for granted. You never know from one day to the next what will happen,” Dana Drake, junior human resources major, said. “Having the opportunity to gain friendships, satisfaction and impact has taken a huge toll on me. I will never forgot the time I spent in New Orleans and look forward to continuing to help others in need.”