Students rebuild Louisiana

Bill Bridgeford

Spurred by the ongoing problems facing post-Katrina New Orleans, Saddleback student Jesse Hays is spearheading an effort to create a non-profit organization, which will be dedicated to bringing volunteers to areas that experience a catastrophic event in the future.

The organization will “bring people together that want to help and go to places that need help” Hays said in a January 13 Orange Country Register article.

In September 2007, Hays arrived to spend the long Labor Day weekend assisting where he could. It did not take him long to realize that the situation was still critical.

“Not only were people not getting help, but they were being fined for not gutting their homes when they had no choice but to leave and don’t have the money to come back,” he said.

He was so distressed by what he saw that immediately upon his return to campus, he began to recruit volunteers to return with him.

On December 15, he and 14 others, including students from Saddleback, UCLA, and UCSB came together.

They arrived and began a week’s work under the guidance of the non- profit Emergency Communities doing demolition and debris removal.

Katrina left over 1800 fatalities and caused damage estimated at over $81 billion, but it is clear that the magnitude of the damage affects him on a smaller, very personal level. He laments the vast number of obstacles residents are still facing. “Even if they come home, they have no jobs to go to,” he said. However, his frustration has not dampened his determination. “A small group of people can make a difference” he said. “There were so many its kind of hard to pinpoint.

One house that we were gutting, when we were in the attic, we saw that they had taken pieces of their house and burned them to keep warm. They must have been there for at least a week.” He was also profoundly moved by the generosity of those who had lost so much.

“Despite what everybody says, they were friendly, supportive and so thankful that we came to help them rebuild,” Hays said.Max Speare, 20, who accompanied Jesse in December was surprised to see how little had been accomplished since Katrina hit on August 28, 2005.

“To actually see the city in person is like watching the movie “Jaws” and then getting bit by a shark”, Hays said. “New Orleans was ‘damaged everywhere you looked’ with ‘piles of garbage’ everywhere.”

“Going there for the first time, I felt really naive because I had no idea how bad it still was. There is just so much work that needs to be done over there. It was a real eye-opener.”Hays, Speare and Joe Peeler are beginning a non-profit organization.

“It doesn’t matter how big, small, or old you are, anyone can help.”

Their intent is to create an organization to bring student volunteers to locations where natural disasters have occurred and assist with recovery efforts.

In addition, the three are aspiring filmmakers and want to create documentary videos that will assist non-profits in securing operational funds.

Jesse and colleagues plan to return to New Orleans during spring break to continue the work they have begun.

They are already aligned with another non-profit aid group and will again be operating in the Ninth Ward District, the most famous of New Orleans 17 wards located in the easternmost section of the city.

The area was one of the hardest hit when the levees broke in 2005. The Ninth Ward also experienced heavy flooding and damage in 1956 and 1965.

If you are interested in supporting them in any way, contact Jesse at his E-mail: [email protected].