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ND students aid Katrina clean up

Maureen Mullen | Thursday, January 19, 2006

While many Notre Dame students spent the last week of winter break enjoying their final days of relaxation before tackling semester number two and January in South Bend, Zahm hall sophomore Baker Jones, with a group a group of eight other students, traveled to New Orleans and spent Jan. 10 to 13 helping those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Jones, a New Orleans native, organized the service project. The trip was made possible with grants from the Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry as well as much support from the Notre Dame Alumni Club of New Orleans, he said.

“Being from the area, I wanted to do something to help out,” Jones said. “I thought it would be great to get Notre Dame students involved and actually see the state of the city for themselves.”

Sophomore Mike McKenna, a friend of Jones and a participant in the project, explained their group of students was gathered mainly by word of mouth.

“Initially, we thought to make it a Zahm Hall service project,” McKenna said.

In the end, word spread and several Notre Dame men and women from different dorms were involved, McKenna said.

Those students stayed with Jones and his family while in New Orleans, and several other Notre Dame students living in the surrounding area joined them in their efforts, McKenna said. The students spent their three and half days of work helping Gerry Heigel, a resident of Lakeview, which, according to Jones, was the area of the city most decimated by the 17th Street canal breech.

“Our job was a bit different than you might think,” Baker said. “We were connected through the ND New Orleans Alumni Club with Catholic Charities’ Helping Hands program, and we were assigned to actually deconstruct Mrs. Heigel’s house. The walls of the house and the foundation were so damaged by the floodwater that the house needed to be substantially gutted. We removed the damaged and molded pieces of the structure.”

Cavanaugh sophomore Caity Schneeman expressed her shock upon seeing the reality of a destroyed New Orleans.

“There is no way of really understanding the extent of the damage and the effects of the hurricane by just watching the pictures on TV,” Schneeman said.

Sophomore McGlinn resident Kathleen Coverick also was a part of the group. She, like Schneeman, was shocked to see such extensive ruin five months after the hurricane.

“We went to the 9th Ward of the city – a place even more devastated than Lakeview,” Coverick said. “The images there made me realize that there is so much more work still to be done.”

Schneeman said when she asked a Catholic Charities worker how many more months New Orleans would need aid, she was informed it was not a question of months, but rather a question of years.

This response caused Schneeman and the other members of the group to think of more ways Notre Dame can continue to bring aid to New Orleans. They are hoping to organize other service projects and fundraisers in the future.

Jones, McKenna, Schneeman and Coverick all agreed the service experience was incredibly rewarding.

“It was emotional for Mrs. Heigel and for us,” Jones said.

Schneeman said Heigel called them “her angels” and gave them all angel pins to express her thanks.

“Mrs. Heigel is planning on rebuilding the rest of her house on her own with help from her son, but I told her that we wouldn’t forget her,” Jones said. “We would like to go back again in the spring if we can.”