Lifting Spirits

The Bradley students who spent part of their winter break helping New Orleans recovery efforts. (Photo provided)

Matt Hawkins
February 1, 2016

Sixteen Bradley students devoted a week of winter break to help ongoing Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in New Orleans. The January 10-16 trip was the first winter break service trip offered by the Lewis J. Burger Center, which annually organizes spring break trips.

A few blocks from New Orleans’ glitzy French Quarter, students salvaged and repainted homes in neighborhoods still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 devastation. Students donned gloves and masks as they tore out fire-damaged interiors and repainted walls.

“It was rewarding to give back instead of spending that extra time for myself,” said Andrea Barr ’16, an elementary education major from Mundelein, Illinois. “I felt it was more important to do this than stay home another week.”

Bradley’s volunteers forged relationships with each other, fellow volunteers and local residents. Conversations with homeowners at work sites, several college groups and a few long-term volunteers made a strange city familiar in a matter of days.

Students discovered their work made a positive mark on one of the homeowners they helped. They were told the landlord, whose property had been burned by homeless squatters earlier this winter, rarely showed outward signs of joy.

That changed after a couple days of cleanup by the Bradley crew. They watched the landlord’s countenance melt into smiles and laughter as he expressed his gratitude for the assistance.

“In one week, we became part of the family that is New Orleans,” said finance major Kyle Job ’19, of Wauconda, Illinois. “This was an excellent opportunity to get outside the classroom to learn about different people and a different way of life.”

In addition to time at work sites, students explored the city from the nearby business district to the Lower Ninth Ward, an impoverished part of New Orleans hit hard by Katrina. Those experiences opened students’ eyes to the city’s spirit.

“It was shocking to see they’re doing recovery 10 years later, but the people of New Orleans are definitely resilient,” Job said. “It was neat to see how they picked up the pieces adapted and kept moving forward.”

The week also encouraged students to be more intentional about helping others.

“There will always be opportunities to reach out wherever we go,” Job said. “I realized I have the time to do things like this while I’m in college, so I should take advantage before I’m in the working world.”