This January over winter break, when most kids (specifically mine) were lazing around watching hours of the wretched “Jersey Shore” on MTV, 29 kids from Oglethorpe University (where my husband is president) traveled to New Orleans to work rebuilding homes in New Orleans. This is the seventh trip that OU’s Center for Civic Engagement has made to New Orleans with students who are ready, willing and happy to share their time and strong backs with Habitat for Humanity, since Katrina devastated the city.
On January 2, our students left Atlanta in three vans, drove to New Orleans, and settled into Camp Hope. Originally a giant volunteer hotel in deepest Saint Bernard Parish, Camp Hope lost its lease — and was just reopened in a former school and church, and staffed by three impassioned volunteers: Crystal, Kristen and Chuck. They opened the new Camp Hope a few days before the volunteers arrived and the accommodations were spartan: all females were in one large room and all males were on the opposite side of the hallway. A Lutheran Church group had just helped to finish the building with hot showers (a luxury!) in a cold outdoor building, and everything possible had been salvaged and reused from the original school site. Camp Hope people worked tirelessly to provide the “three hots and a cot” for which students pay a nominal fee, but the energy and camaraderie with the 230 other college student volunteers from all over the country was intensely upbeat.
As part of the housing agreement, OU students spent six hours on Monday at Camp Hope, cleaning and sorting two tractor trailers full of donated tools. Then Tuesday through Friday, for eight hours a day, they completed the siding and insulation on a Habitat home in the 9th ward. Nights were spent (alcohol-free) in giant Taboo games with other students at Camp Hope, in reflection sessions about the culture, people and the meaning of our service in New Orleans, and in talks with residents of New Orleans.
On January 9, the students returned to Atlanta to finish out their winter break, and maybe catch up on “Jersey Shore.” I can’t tell you how proud it makes me that for seven winter & spring breaks now, Oglethorpe students, led by the indefatigable CCE staff of Heather, Valencya, Calvin, Kimber and Director Tamara Nash, have cheerfully clambered into vans and traveled to New Orleans to help others rebuild their shattered homes and lives. My $100 today goes to the aptly-named Camp Hope which provides housing for volunteers like our students– who give me so much hope for the future.
p.s. In all fairness, I have to tell you that my TV-watching daughter Lulu and stepkids Tyler, Lindsay and Jaime have also spent previous vacations in New Orleans working for Habitat. And I’m real proud of them, too.
Camp Hope, 6800 Patricia St., Arabi, Louisiana 70032.