Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans

Nicole Stempak

Louisiana devastation and enhanced security opens eyes of Kent State student volunteers

Volunteers (from left to right) Dylan Carlson, Crystal Nicholson, Melissa Hosom, Megan Haney, Megan Odell-Scott , Emily Hook, Whitney Romine, Paul Odell-Scott, pose for a picture after constructing cubbies for a school in Biloxi, Mississippi.


Credit: DKS Editors

Chris Hook had been to New Orleans before but hadn’t really seen the city.

“Going down to New Orleans for Spring Break this year and seeing the devastation in the city, which I had only known to be fun, was a real shock,” he said.

Hook, freshman French and international relations major, was one of approximately 90 volunteers for Kent State United for the Gulf Coast. This year, the volunteers split up into two groups. About 40 went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast as usual, and 50 went to New Orleans.

Megan Odell-Scott, who was on the planning committee and is a fifth-time volunteer, said the group decided to go to New Orleans because they hadn’t yet been there and it’s still rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

“Our goal was to open up the eyes of the students to the devastation,” she said. “When you tell people that you’re going to New Orleans, they ask why because they think it’s all better, but it’s not.”

Volunteers worked at F.W. Gregory, a K-8 school, which is located behind one of the levies that broke and has been deemed structurally unsound.

Right now the school is using modular trailers in what used to be the football field, third-time volunteer Mark Conner said in an e-mail.

“As we entered (the trailers), we passed by security officers and a metal detector at the doorway,” said Conner, a sophomore criminal justice major. “An elementary (and middle) school suddenly provoked images of a prison.”

Volunteers spent the week painting the sidewalk, building a puppet theater and painting and assembling cubby holes for backpacks and coats.

Conner said the impact of their work could be seen in the children’s faces.

“When we arrived, they seemed saddened to go to school each day,” he wrote. “When we left, they all had smiles on their faces and were excited to be there.”

Whether Kent State United for the Gulf Coast will make another trip to the Gulf Coast is yet to be decided. The group originally made a three-year commitment, and this trip marked the end of that agreement.

“We will reevaluate it and see if we have enough student interest in going back down there,” Odell-Scott said, adding that there is still much work to be done.

Contact general assignment reporter

Nicole Stempak at [email protected].