A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
Feb 14, 2008 Volume 38 / Number 4


That’s the Way You’re Supposed To Do It!

Chico State Students Work to Rebuild New Orleans

Rebuild New Orleans volunteers Andy Baker, Gina Duarte, and Jessica Main put siding on a house.
CLICK HERE for a slide show of Rebuild New Orleans III
Graham Thurgood

Richard Somphithack, a fourth-year computer information systems student, is one of the 115 people who traveled with the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management (ECC) to New Orleans during the third week in January to help rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The homeowners from New Orleans that he worked side-by-side with moved him with their gratitude.
“I was most impacted by the people we met, like Marshall,” said Somphithack. “Habitat for Humanity required that prospective homeowners put in a fixed number of hours in aiding the construction of another home before starting theirs.
Marshall was close to finishing up putting in his hours and was assigned to help the Chico group on a home in Musicians Village, said Richard. “At one point we were doing sidings. Marshall hesitated as he held up a board and said, ‘I'm really glad to be working with you guys. It makes me happy to see people doing good work here because it gives me good hope that other volunteers will work as hard on my home.’  I told him we were simply trying to build the homes as if we were trying to build it for ourselves. Marshal said, ‘And that's the way you’re supposed to do it.’  I'll never forget the smile on his face.”
This was the third trip to New Orleans for the “Rebuild New Orleans” project, and the trip with the largest number of volunteers. Advisor Terry Battle, from ECC, accompanied the group, as did staff member Ben Duarte and faculty members James O’Bannon, Mark Maybee, David Shirah, Michelle Morris, and Dale Lee.

“The devastation Hurricane Katrina caused to the communities was apparent to the students as we drove to Camp Hope, an old school used as a hostel-like lodge for volunteer workers,” said Battle. “Forty students were bundled in three classrooms. They worked for the next five days from dusk until dawn in an effort to bring life back to the New Orleans area.”

It was Gina Duarte’s second year volunteering with Rebuild New Orleans. “Once again, it was amazing to see the many talented students from Construction Management and the College of ECC show off their skills in the rebuilding effort,” said Duarte. “I worked with an all girl crew (or krewe as they say in NOLA) at Musicians Village putting up siding. These girls were just as skilled with power tools as they were with their speed squares and tape measures, not to mention that our siding was perfectly level and flush at all the seams!”

One of the people who made an impression on Duarte was John booth, a Katrina survivor. “Mr. Booth was the camp cook and every evening after dinner he and a few other old timers, who came to eat at Camp Hope, sat around the television and watched videos from Hurricane Katrina. One of his favorites is Spike Lee’s, “When the Levees Broke.” On my last night at Camp Hope, Mr. Booth said that many of his friends that stayed in their homes and survived the hurricane later committed suicide and that every time he watches the videos, he is able to see his best friend's face one more time. This sounds really heart wrenching, but Mr. Booth had me laughing just as much as he had me in tears, and that is why it is one of my best memories. This man who at one time worked on the Saturn 5 Moon Project and who lost everything, still has a giving heart and volunteers his time to cook for so many people.”

Osazee Edibiri, Associated Students president, was one of the students on the trip, and he described the way that the volunteers who had never had any experience were instructed. “To simply be in New Orleans and the surrounding areas and see how much destruction was still there, and how much help they really needed was eye-opening,” said Edibiri. “I am a business management major, so this was the first time I ever constructed a house in this capacity before. I went from the first day being on top of the house, which did not look as steep as it was from the ground—then to the side, and my last day, to the underneath of the house installing the insulation. These were all tasks I had never done before, and, without the help of my Chico State peers, I would not have had a clue what to do.”

The students raised the majority of money for the trip—more than $90,000—through raffles, pancake breakfasts, and spaghetti dinners. They also solicited donations from construction companies, family members, and friends.

Three charity organizations selected homes for the Chico State group to work on. Habitat for Humanity assigned Chico seven houses in the area known as Musicians Village. Trinity Christian Community Projects assigned four houses, and Common Grounds assigned three houses to the group.

One of the houses the Chico group worked on was a well-known house called the Barge House. When the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, the first homes to be demolished were those in the Lower Ninth Ward. A barge was carried with the flood of water, destroying homes as it passed through. Eventually the barge rested upon a two-story home some 300 yards from the levee walls. That became known as the Barge House.

“The 100-year-old woman who owned the home had one wish: to die in the house where she raised her family,” said Battle. “The students worked every day on replacing exterior walls and windows to make her house secure and to make the woman’s dream a reality. On the last night, the students brought the woman the keys to her home.”

Sandra Flake, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, visited the group while they were in New Orleans. “It was great to see how much our students were able to contribute to the rebuilding effort, particularly when I saw the amount of rebuilding still needed,” she said. “Almost every area we saw, from the areas where our students were working to those where the wealthier members of the community lived, remained largely unoccupied with work not finished. Our students were skilled, dedicated, and efficient, and accomplished much in a short period of time. We were all proud of their work and the way in which they represented the University.”


Kathleen McPartland, Public Affairs and Publications