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.