MU freshman Nate Kennedy spent the last weekend in January clearing out furniture and other belongings from houses in flood-damaged New Orleans. Most of it had to be thrown out because it was covered in mold.
But Kennedy still recognized the human touches that make a house a home.
“As you go through the houses taking stuff out, you get a pretty good idea of the people who lived in the house,” he said.
Kennedy was among 45 Missouri College Democrats who traveled to New Orleans on Jan. 27 to 29 to aid in “A New Year for New Orleans,” a Hurricane Katrina recovery project headed by Tulane University’s College Democrats.
The students from MU, University of Missouri-St. Louis, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Central Missouri State University were trained on a Friday night, then gutted flood-damaged houses in the Upper Ninth Ward on Saturday and Sunday. The volunteer work was coordinated through the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, a community action group for low- and moderate-income families.
After removing furniture, carpet, dry wall, refrigerators and other ruined belongings, Habitat for Humanity works to rebuild the homes. All this is in an effort to encourage people to return to their old neighborhoods in New Orleans.
“I got a really good picture of poverty,” said Kennedy, president of MU’s College Democrats. “Looking at everyone’s belongings, it seemed like everyone was trying to make the best with what they had and were working hard.”
College Democrats from Louisiana State University, Rutgers University and Tulane volunteered during the weekend as well, bringing the number of volunteers to 120. Altogether, the students worked on 12 houses and two churches. The labor costs for gutting one house was estimated at $4,000. Overall, the volunteers saved ACORN $58,000, said Kristin Fine, an organizer in New Orleans.
“Going down there and volunteering meant a lot more than just giving money,” said Karla Thieman, MU senior and vice president of the College Democrats of Missouri. “It’s a direct way to see where the effects were going.”
Freshman John Morrison, MU College Democrats philanthropy chair, helped organize the trip. The biggest problem was fundraising, he said. But the group raised $5,000 to fund a charter bus with several personal donations and with help from both Missouri Republicans and Democrats.
The only other cost to participants was a $20 fee paid to the Tulane College Democrats. While in New Orleans, Tulane students hosted the Missouri students in their residence halls and homes.
While getting to New Orleans was difficult, the volunteer work was simple for Thieman. “It is disheartening that we were able to gut an entire house in a day and it was so easy and not more people are going down there to do this,” she said.
Volunteer work was contained to the Upper Ninth Ward, but the Missouri students toured the Lower Ninth Ward where the damage is worse. All that remains are slabs of concrete, Thieman said.
“Words and pictures can’t really describe what’s going on down there,” Morrison said. “I brought back the realization that I know what’s going on down there. I brought back how bad things are down there and how much people need help.”