A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
February 15, 2007 Volume 37 / Number 5


New Orleans 2007: Students Restore 18 Houses in Five Days

Photo: Alex Romo-DeLaPaz, Tori Hill, Coleman Jones, Josh Deadmore, Russ Vendt-Pearce, James Alsbury, Lindsay Poulin, Jessica Main

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For the second year in a row, students from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Manage-ment (ECC) spent their winter break in New Orleans as part of the Rebuild New Orleans Project. Fifty-five students, mostly from ECC but including students from disciplines across campus, worked on 18 houses of the elderly and disabled and helped move six families back into their homes by the time they left.

The students, led by construction management major Josh Deadmore, who participated in the New Orleans project last year, raised more than $40,000 last fall to pay their own way and purchase materials and tools to take with them. One of the most successful fund-raising ventures was writing letters to businesses, friends and families, and recruiters of construction management students.

“We rebuilt homes. We went into homes of blue-collar workers, people who had worked their whole lives to have their own homes,” said Deadmore. “And after Hurricane Katrina, they were living in trailers in their front yards without the money, the materials, or the labor to rebuild their homes. This time, we met the families and worked side by side with them. That was the real reward.”

The students, some of whom had excellent building skills in various trades and some of whom had few building skills, were divided into crews responsible for Sheetrock, insulation, framing, electrical work, and plumbing. Led by construction management professors Jim O’Bannon and John Schwartz, the students took houses at all stages of construction and helped train crews in all of the necessary skills.
“Professor O’Bannon was amazing,” said Deadmore. “He knows something about everything that has to do with building. The project was an outdoor and on-the-job classroom, with students who knew nothing ending up installing drywall and appliances by the end of the week.”

Professors O’Bannon and Schwartz, with Deadmore’s help, created crews that matched experienced construction workers with students who may have never pounded a nail before. Students with little experience reached the end of the week feeling as if they’d learned three or four trades. The crews traveled from house to house and, said Deadmore, accomplished more than they had imagined possible.
In fact, what most impressed Deadmore and Terry Battle, Rebuild New Orleans Project advisor, who had both been in New Orleans the year before, was the work ethic of the students. Students, said Battle, often left before breakfast and came home after dinner and then wanted to go back and work more.

“A lot of the students didn’t want to leave, because they felt they’d left it unfinished,” said Battle. “I’d tell them, ‘We have to leave it for the next group.’ Habitat for Humanity’s St. Bernard Project, who organizes the volunteers, asked us to slow down. We were eating up all of the work they’d lined out for groups coming after us.”

Dean of the College of ECC, Ken Derucher, visited the students in New Orleans to provide support and to talk to homeowners. He was impressed by the ownership the students had taken of their work and the degree to which they were having an impact on the homeowners’ lives. “One man said that he’d been praying for someone to help them, and after the Chico State students came, he was praying for them,” said Derucher. “Our students gave the people back hope, and it was moving to watch.”

The students stayed at the volunteer shelter Camp Hope, part of Habitat for Humanity. “It was rough camping,” said Battle. “Cold showers, no heat. Every night I unzipped my sleeping bag, shook it out for the spiders and mice they warned us about, and then got in.”

This trip has changed all of the volunteers’ lives, said Deadmore. “This was a national-level outreach project. Compassionate students kept pouring out their hearts on these people. Whatever we gave, we’ve taken back 10-fold. The students were really Chico State leaders—they all stepped up to the plate.”

The group had a welcome-back dinner on Feb. 11. And most of them, said Deadmore, are looking for the next project, the next way they can contribute.

—Kathleen McPartland