While many students returned to Rollins from break for intersession, 15 students, one staff member and a faculty member traveled to New Orleans for a week to work with Habitat for Humanity. Sam Barns and Danielle Ford led the trip organized through the student organization, Rollins Relief, as they celebrated their 10th trip to New Orleans post- Katrina. I was lucky enough to be among this group.
We left late on Sunday for the 11-hour drive from Winter Park to New Orleans. Upon arriving, we walked around the Ninth Ward, the section of New Orleans most affected by Katrina. All of us had seen the footage five years ago when Katrina hit, but many of us were not ready to see damage from that storm that still exists today. Although many houses have been renovated and rebuilt, others stand exactly as they did the moment the storm hit.
Ana Bernal ’11 shared her thoughts about exploring this When the Bookmark Café opened in the Olin Library a few years ago, it was not expected that it would soon be making Rollins history. Circulation Specialist Shawne Keevan ’01 and Barbara Burke are currently designing a brew that will be unique to Rollins. Burke explained, “I thought it would be advantageous to have its own signature blend of tea and since Rollins is the ‘Pearl of the South,’ that would be the perfect name.” Keevan and her husband Bill own the Olde Cup and Saucer, a small teashop in Altamonte Springs where they serve food and teas, some of which they blend themselves. Keevan, who works in the library with Burke, began selling loose teas to the café a few years part of New Orleans: “I knew that the lower Ninth Ward had been hit pretty hard, but actually seeing it for myself and standing on the levees that had once failed, made it that much more real. It really drove me to do the best work that I could for the people whose house we were building.”
That is why we looked forward to working with Habitat for Humanity for a week to rebuild one of the houses. Even though it was tough getting up at 6 a.m. for a long day at the construction site, we all took pride in the various tasks we were given. These tasks ranged from painting the entire interior and exterior of the house, to building a deck and stairs, to putting up doors. With each day, we watched the house grow and come closer to completion.
We were lucky enough to meet the homeowner, Lori Elise, who joined us on our last day at the worksite to help screw spindles into the handrails on the deck. She also told us that she could not take her seven-year-old son to see the house because he gets too excited and does not want to leave.
Our trip did not solely consist of building when the trolley took us from outside our hostel into the heart of New Orleans. We explored the French Quarter for a couple nights, had beignets and hot chocolate at Café du Monde, and attended an authentic New Orleans jazz concert at the infamous Preservation Hall.
I highly encourage every student to attend one of these immersion trips held by the Office of Community Engagement. They truly open your eyes to the world and to where change is desperately needed. If you are interested in attending an immersion trip, visit members of the Office of Community Engagement on the second floor of the Mills building and can point you in the right direction.