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ACE workers feel Katrina’s wrath

Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, August 31, 2005

There are many recent Notre Dame graduates who have left the Dome – and their homes – to spend two years as volunteer teachers in needy Catholic schools as part of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program. And now Hurricane Katrina has made their already challenging jobs even harder.

Twenty-five Notre Dame graduates are serving in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, ACE director John Staud said. The affected sites are Baton Rouge and Plaguemine, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida.

“The important thing is, all the teachers are safe and were evacuated in time,” Staud said. “In my 10 years involved in the program, this is the worst [storm] we’ve experienced. Last year in Pensacola was bad, but this will probably surpass it.”

Staud said the next step would be damage assessment and mobilizing alumni contacts in the area.

“There was massive flooding, wind damage,” he said. “We don’t have confirmation on anything.”

Emily Gorman, one of six student teachers living in Mobile, has not had to evacuate, although the ACE house was without power Tuesday.

“The downtown area is flooded and there’s a lot of debris,” she said. “One of the schools got a decent amount of damage and one is close to flooding.”

The student teachers, currently serving at five schools in the Mobile area, stocked up on essentials like water, supplies, food and batteries Sunday after the storm’s severity was predicted to increase.

Gorman, whose school will reopen no earlier than Thursday, said she “had an idea” of the region’s hurricane potential before embarking on the program.

“When they first told me I was going to Mobile, they had pictures [of previous storm damage],” Gorman said. “But I didn’t expect this.”

Notre Dame has already begun fundraising for the disaster, said Father Richard Warner, director of Campus Ministry.

“We wrote to rectors and asked them to take up collections this weekend,” Warner said. “Dillon already collected $500 last week and turned it in without even asking.”

Half of the money collected this week from Masses in the Basilica and residence halls will go to Catholic Relief Services, and half will go to the damaged ACE schools and a school run by Holy Cross, Warner said.

“I don’t think anybody realized how terribly destructive this was going to be,” Warner said. “There’s a lot of poor people there, and I think we can really help.”

Staud said the student teachers he had talked to seemed upbeat despite the disaster.

“One said, ‘It’s only the middle of hurricane season,'” Staud said. “I’m kind of in awe of the strength of the people down there.”