CSU, Chico News

Chico State Students Work to Rebuild New Orleans

Date: 01-31-2008

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
Terry Battle

During the third week in January, 115 students, faculty and staff from California State University, Chico traveled to the New Orleans area to spend five days rebuilding houses devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This was the third trip to New Orleans for the “Rebuild New Orleans” project, and the trip with the largest number of volunteers.

The College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management (ECC) sponsored the program. Staff advisor Terry Battle, from ECC, accompanied the group, as did staff member Ben Duarte and faculty members John Schwarz, James O’Bannon, Mark Maybee, David Shirah, Michelle Morris and Dale Lee.

“The devastation Hurricane Katrina had 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.”

Each night, a small group of leaders, including students and faculty members, met to make plans for the entire group for the following day.

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, including the high-profile home known as 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.

“The 100-year-old woman who owned the home had one wish: to die in the house where she raised her family. 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,” said Battle. “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.”