Spring 2013: Shifting winds
As memories of Hurricane Katrina fade, long-term volunteers—including those from Elon University—are becoming more crucial when it comes to rebuilding New Orleans.
By Eric Townsend
Later this spring, if all goes according to plan, an educator will move into 3524 Republic St., a modest white bungalow two blocks west of the London Avenue Canal in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans. It might be a teacher for the struggling New Orleans Public Schools, a professor at nearby Dillard
University or a counselor for any number of private and parochial institutions that dot the city.
Among other features, the house will have sanded and painted outdoor ironwork, an insulated bedroom ceiling, reglazed windows, new kitchen subfl ooring, and bathroom walls to replace mildewed and cracked tiles demolished by a dozen Elon University students and two staff advisers during a January service trip to the city.
While the team worked, tens of thousands of revelers were streaming into town just a few miles south for other purposes: Mardi Gras and Super Bowl XLVII. With few exceptions, almost no one paid much attention to neighborhoods outside the downtown stadium area, French Quarter or Garden District, where nighttime parades left the streets strewn with colorful plastic beads and assorted debris.
“I don’t think they really cared that much, to be honest,” Elon sophomore management major Chris Vigliotta says. “It’s been years since Katrina and they probably thought everything was good again.
“It wasn’t, as we saw.”
Vigliotta and his classmates visited New Orleans as part of an Alternative Break service trip between the end of Winter Term and the start of the spring semester. Th e group had partnered with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, or Youth Rebuild for short, an organization that purchases distressed and foreclosed properties, then renovates and sells them to educators to boost neighborhoods and the education
system. Another Elon group followed in their footsteps over spring break.
It’s the type of collaboration that’s becoming rare for Youth Rebuild. Aft er years of welcoming volunteers from across the country, the organization can no longer count on the same level of interest as the urgency of rescuing a devastated city subsides in the national psyche. Why? Nearly half of Youth Rebuild’s volunteer base hails from the Northeast and for service organizations in search of longterm relief projects, the drive to a work site got a whole lot shorter due in part to Hurricane Sandy, which the National Hurricane Center ranked as the second-most destructive storm in U.S. history behind Katrina.
“Building relationships with organizations like Elon are great ways of establishing connections
with other communities,” Youth Rebuild Executive Director William Stoudt says. “You know next year
you can assume Elon’s going to be back and ready to work. And if you don’t know that another group is
going be there next year, it’s hard to base staffing projections. Operating as a nonprofit, that’s concerning.”