Break Away fights mold and cares for rescued animals in the Big Easy


From left: Kailie Gulino, Andrew Klansky, Ben Watson and Ben Nelson

When one thinks of “winter break,” typical associations might be catching some sun on a beach or just kicking back at home. For some JSC students, however, it was an opportunity to don dust masks, work-gloves and overalls and help some folks out.

On Feb. 22, a group of 12 students ranging from freshman to seniors drove to New Orleans to help with disaster relief. “We went to Enterprise and rented a van and we drove 27 hours and it was pretty fun,” said trip leader and JSC student Kailie Gulino. “You definitely get to know your participants after being in a car with them for a while, but it was worth it.”

Before the trip, students met once a week to coordinate, plan and fundraise.

Around $10,000 needed to be raised to pay for this trip. Students typically raise half of the money before the trip, and the rest once they have returned. “A lot of planning goes into it but it is definitely worth it,” said Gulino.

During their time in New Orleans, the group helped out with anything from mold removal to animal rescue. “We learned right off when we got there that they are trying to rebuild New Orleans to be better than it was before the storm, and I think that is something that really stuck out while we were doing service,” said Gulino. “A lot of people think ‘Oh, you are going to do disaster relief, let’s go rebuild homes!’ but we did so much more than that. On our last day, we actually ended up being in a home that was destroyed from Hurricane Isaac, which came through in the fall. It was flooded to the top and we did mold removal and sprayed down the walls so that the mold would be gone for this lady.”

“We also worked at the animal rescue there, and we helped them clean up, and we got to play with the dogs and cats, organize for them and do some laundry and house cleaning work, which was awesome,” said Gulino. “We also worked with Youth Rebuilds and that’s another organization down there, and United Saints, who are the people we stayed with. We made frames for Kid Smart, which is a program which tries to bring arts into the public schools, because usually when there’s not enough funding, art is the first thing to go. And we also made panels for a community art project.”

While in New Orleans, the group stayed at United Saints, a church organization. “It was started by this guy [Darryl] who went down to help with Hurricane Katrina by roofing and he got in touch with the church and decided ‘I might just stay here,’ and he stayed and never went back to Minnesota, where he was from. We stayed 12 to an apartment and it was really fun,” said Gulino.

“I loved getting to experience a different setting with these people and their problems,” said Gulino. “There is so much extreme poverty but also so much hope. These people were so happy to have help, and it wasn’t just southern hospitality, they were truly thankful. When I saw my participants opening up their eyes to new experiences and really getting it, I felt like a proud mom.”

Liz Conard is a sophomore at JSC who also participated in the trip to New Orleans. “One of the biggest things that I learned from my trip was how a community can come together in response to a tragedy,” said Conard. “A lot of people who we worked with put together teams of their own to help their community, and had been doing that for years now. It made me think a lot about ways our community in Johnson could come together if we ever had an event like Hurricane Katrina.”