First year social studies teacher at , Ray Cottiers, (NMHS 2004) wanted to offer something substantial to his students. "I wanted to give them an experience that would take them out of New Milford and into the larger world," he said.
Cottiers wanted to inspire his students by providing them with an opportunity that would positively and permanently influence their lives.
"I wanted to do something similar to Colleen Tambuscio's Holocaust trip that she does with the high school every year," Cottiers said. "I want to do something that will inspire these kids to do great things."
"Not only did I want an experience that would allow the students to help those in need, but also an enriching experience that they would always remember," he said.
Cottiers contacted the New Orleans chapter of Volunteers of America and they connected him with Fred Franks, founder of Operation Nehemiah. Operation Nehemiah is 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.
Operation Nehemiah has no funds and relies solely on volunteers to help them rebuild homes.
Cottier said that when he presented his proposal to the administration and Board of Education they wholeheartedly supported it, which did not surprise him. As a product of the New Milford school system, Cottiers said, "I know first-hand the potential to do spectacular things here."
The New Orleans rebuilding trip includes graduating eighth graders and juniors. "In addition to helping rebuild, I want the trip to foster peer-mentor relationships between the two classes," Cottiers said.
"In September, when the eighth graders are freshman, they'll already have established relationships with seniors, making for a smoother transition."
Chaperoning the trip are middle school Vice Principal Russell Petrocelli, NMHS football coach Pete Galasso, and teachers Rebecca Millan and Samantha Orsi.
34 students applied to be a part of the trip. Upon reviewing the applications with the chaperones, it was unanimously decided that all 34 deserved to go based on their teacher and community recommendations.
"Each student came highly recommended," Cottiers said. "There was really no way we could turn anyone down."
To supplement the funding of the trip, the group has been planning a series of fundraising events. Sweet Indulgences in Dumont is helping them with their fundraising efforts by taking orders for cupcakes and donating a percentage of the sales to the New Orleans rebuilding trip.
Cottiers has also registered with Donors Choose, an on-line charity just for schools. A New Orleans family has already donated a camera to New Milford for the students to use to document their trip.
"It's an honor to be a part of a trip with such selfless and dedicated young adults who understand the importance of giving back to the community," Cottiers said. "These leaders of tomorrow are proof that the future of our country is in good hands."
The trip is scheduled from June 24 to June 30 and the students will be staying at Tulane University.
If you would like to donate to the Rebuild New Orleans trip you can do so by mailing a check made payable to New Milford Board of Education to David E. Owens Middle School, 470 Marion Ave., New Milford, NJ 07646.