Urban Plunge builds homes and hope in New Orleans

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Urban Plunge builds homes and hope in New Orleans

photo courtesy of Khrystyne Bartoswicz

photo courtesy of Khrystyne Bartoswicz

photo courtesy of Khrystyne Bartoswicz

Justin Reed wielding a framing hammer at a Habitat for Humanity project

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The Katrina Relief Urban Plunge bus trip to New Orleans organized by the New England branch of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at JSC helped rebuild the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Of the 52 students who went, 12 were from JSC. Rachel Oakes, Elizabeth Bennett, Nikolaus Holm, Justin Reed, and Raymond Swaby, along with Brianna Ste. Marie, Kelsey Magee, Kaylie Hale, Ericka Salter, Alycia Brodeur and co-trip leaders, Khrystyne Bartoswicz and Kristina Gorden learned how the devastation affected residents, and witnessed firsthand how people are making a comeback.

“Even though Hurricane Katrina happened six years ago, there is still great need down there,” said Bartoswicz.

Many lessons learned on the trip were introspective.

“This trip gave me perspective,” member Rachel Oakes said. “All the cultural differences down there really make you think. I hope that the people that we helped gained hope. Hope that there are people out there that want to help them.”

To Bartoswicz, everything is possible.

She believes even small amounts of help to places devastated are greatly appreciated. “Everyone can help, and it is time well spent.”

Another trip member, Ericka Salter agreed. “This trip helped me apply my faith to the current world through service to others,” she said. “Volunteering gives one a sense of accomplishment that cannot be experienced anywhere else.”

Even the painful 30-hour bus ride was tolerable according to Oakes. “It was worth it to see the happiness on people’s faces when you came to work on their home.”

The JSC students worked at five project sites during their visit. The first, a sustainable farm created and operated by the residents of the Ninth Ward, kept the students busy planting, moving compost and learning about sustainable farming.

At the Journey Ninth Ward site a team worked with a homeowner, scraping old paint, priming and painting his house and replacing some of the clapboards.

At a Habitat for Humanity site another team helped frame a house and started putting siding up.

The group was surprised by the thankfulness shown. “One thing I noticed in New Orleans was how appreciated our service was,” Salter said. “Community members walking by the worksite would stop to thank us and often times told us how much of a blessing we were. I’ve never experienced that kind of appreciation before.”

The students also worked at the St. Bernard Hilliyard project site finishing a home for 72-year-old woman, a lifelong resident of New Orleans. “We helped do the finishing touches that need to go into a house to transform it from a building project to a home,” said Bartoswicz. “We did such things as trim along the floor boards, touching up paint jobs around the electrical outlets, and fixing things up.”

At the St. Bernard Creely site Bartoswicz worked on insulating an Opportunity House home and then started drywalling, finishing two rooms.

The dwelling was given to the St. Bernards Project and will be sold to a low income family for a low cost once it is completed.

The group also had fun enjoying New Orleans. Madi Gras was a big hit. “While down there, we were able to attend a parade on Fat Tuesday,” said Bartoswicz, “it was something I would never have believed before. Along with that, we had time on Wednesday night to go out into the French Quarter and do what we wanted to do; be the tourists that everyone dreams of being.”

An active club on campus, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship welcomes anyone and everyone.

Getting involved with the club or the trip can be accomplished by e-mailing either Khrystyne.Bartoswicz@jsc.edu or Kristina.Gorden@jsc.edu.

The trip’s planning stages officially start at the return to school next year, but interested students can get help and start fundraising anytime to raise the approximately $575 per student cost.

The Mr. and Ms. Johnson State Pageant is one of the fundraisers the group hosts to defray costs.

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