While some Gauchos were sunbathing near the California coastline this spring break, about 35 UCSB students were thousands of miles away, traveling from Santa Barbara to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina relief.
Twenty-one members of the UCSB campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity, along with 11 UCSB Hillel students and several more from the campus Christian organization, Real Life, joined forces last week with several Louisiana service organizations to continue cleanup efforts for Hurricane Katrina, the tropical storm that destroyed substantial portions of the city of New Orleans in September 2005.
UCSB Habitat for Humanity member Myke Hoff said he went with Habitat to the town of Slidell, Louisiana – an area located slightly north of New Orleans that was strongly affected by the hurricane. Hoff said the area was still visibly marked by the effects of the disaster, even more than a year later after restoration efforts commenced.
“There was a lot of work to do in Slidell,” Hoff, a fourth year global studies major, said. “It’s one of those areas that’s not in the news.”
UCSB Habitat Spring Break Coordinator Sean Novak, a fifth year molecular, cellular and developmental biology major, said the drastic impact the hurricane had on Slidell’s infrastructure, economy and landscape has attracted students, religious groups and construction workers from across the country.
“Slidell was really hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and Habitat really ramped up production in the area,” Novak said.
Novak said Habitat for Humanity’s East St. Tammany program – which has been organizing recovery efforts for Slidell since Hurricane Katrina – houses volunteering students in the local sheriff training facility while they help with relief efforts. He said the affiliate set a goal to build 100 houses a year in the city over the next three years.
Hoff said most construction in Slidell occurs during prime building season from the end of February to the middle of April.
“It’s too hot down there in the summer so no one comes down, and the turnout during the winter break just pales in comparison to spring,” Hoff said.
There are a number of housing areas in Slidell under construction, Novak said. Habitat spent most of its time installing shingles and roof frames and waterproofing roofs. However, Hoff said, all of the houses are being built with large portions of their foundations elevated off the ground to prevent water damage and mold, which has complicated construction efforts in the past.
“That was a big problem during the hurricane, that houses were too low to the ground,” Hoff said. “The houses ended up being raised three feet off the ground, and we had to use a lot of ladders to get onto the roofs.”
UCSB alumni Justin Young said he traveled with UCSB Hillel traveled to Chalmette, Louisiana, a community located east of New Orleans, to work with International Hillel and National Relief Network – an organization that organizes volunteers for disaster relief. Together, the organizations cleared out the interior of at least eight destroyed houses to either make room for new development or to prepare the homes for bank repossession.
Young said this was Hillel’s second trip to the Gulf Coast. The group also sent members to Mississippi during last year’s Spring Break.
Novak said students that traveled to Slidell with Habitat personally funded their $200 plane tickets, in addition to financing extraneous expenses. However, due to surplus funding, Novak said participants would receive partial reimbursement for plane tickets, but not enough to cover the entire cost of the trip.
Novak said Habitat received a total of approximately $9,400 in donations from UCSB’s Community Affairs Board, A.S. Finance Board and the Residence Hall Association.
In addition, Young said that since Hillel was able to raise enough funds to pay for the entire cost of each of their volunteers’ trips, the money left over from the donations will be used to assist those affected by the hurricane.
While this was Habitat’s first trip the Gulf Coast, Novak said it most likely would not be their last.
“It was good to do something that actually contributed to improving peoples’ lives,” Novak said. “People were having a hard time before we came, and they were grateful to see us.”