Assignment: Rebuilding New Orleans

New Milford Students return from their week of summer service in New Orleans.


Students from and recently returned from their "Rebuilding New Orleans" trip. 

The trip was the brainchild of first year social studies teacher at David E. Owens Middle School, Ray Cottiers, (NMHS 2004) who wanted to inspire his students by providing them with an opportunity that would positively and permanently influence their lives. An experience similar in scope to Colleen Tambuscio's annual Holocaust trip.

Cottiers decided on a where the students could experience the larger world outside of New Milford and help people in need in their own country.

He connected with Operation Nehemiah, a nonprofit group committed to helping families rebuild after the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina. Since its inception, Operation Nehemiah has helped approximately 27,000 families rebuild their homes and has been host to more than 200 school group volunteers. 

34 students from both the middle school and New Milford High School embarked on their trip on June 24 when they met at the high school at 3:15am to take the bus to JFK Airport where they flew into New Orleans.

The group was housed in the dorms of Weatherhead Hall at Tulane University. After settling in, the group was given a tour of the city of New Orleans--the Mississippi River walk, the French Quarter, and an 18th century cemetery-- before being taken to see the destruction that still remained from Hurricane Katrina. 

The week consisted of lots of hard work rebuilding homes. Whether it was climbing ladders to paint, clearing away years of overgrowth or hauling debris from the property in temperatures that consistently reached 100 degrees, New Milford kicked into action. 

Interspersed with the hard work, the group was able to immerse themselves into the rich culture of New Orleans. Not only did they visit the French Quarter, but they visited the back country where they were taken to the swamps and got a lesson in the eco-system being preserved.

After touring downtown New Orleans, and learning that the city sits six feet below sea level, the students came away with an acute understanding of why this city is so ravaged by storms. 

What is the measure of success of the trip? According to their daily blog of the trip, "[The trip] has changed [their] perspective of what good people can do when they get together for the right reason."

To get a daily run-down of what the students did, and to see more pictures from the trip, click here to check out their blog.

Sam W July 05, 2012 at 11:49 PM
It really was an amazing experience. I had so much fun down there. Given the chance, I would defiantly go back.
Ray Cottiers July 09, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Sam..definitely* ... Just because it's summer doesn't mean you shouldn't proofread! Haha. Thank you, Ann, for keeping the people of NM up to date with the great work the students of New Milford are doing. The students were the lifeblood of this trip; without their desire, compassion, and determination this trip never would have taken place. Having watched these 34 individuals of different ages and backgrounds come together as a group for this week and leave their mark on history was the best experience of my life. For those that did not see the blog (which Ann included at the bottom of the article), there was even a school in Croatia who were so inspired by their "American friends" they decided to help out in their community as well. Talk about making a difference! It was an honor, privilege and inspiration to be along with them on their journey. A big thank you to the administration and BOE for your unwavering support during the months leading up to departure and during the week itself. And a special thank you to the parents. It took a lot of guts sending your children to NOLA for a week, but in doing so you provided confidence to future parents to take on such meaningful trip, and for that I am extremely grateful and humbled. Ray Cottiers
Ray Cottiers July 09, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Also, we have plenty of more pictures and videos that will be compiled into a presentation. The ones uploaded were the only ones I had available on my phone. When the presentation is made I will try to make it available via The Patch.


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