Helping HandsGAMBIER, Ohio (January 5, 2008) As an impressionable first-year student, I joined a community-service trip to New Orleans led by Matt Huber '08, a recent graduate who became a close friend. Now as a senior, I recognize that the trip was not only a defining moment in my college career but also in my life. Since then I have been back six times, and OhioAction, Kenyon's own disaster-relief group, has been running successful trips during each vacation.
What makes these trips amazing and dynamic is that Kenyon students help people who lost it all during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many homes were flooded by more than eight feet of water and possessions were destroyed. Watching students working side-by-side with homeowners is a heartwarming experience. Whether it's house-gutting, yard work, rebuilding, or consoling those in need, our volunteers work tirelessly to help New Orleans residents get back on their feet.
The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana Office of Disaster Response organizes our work sites and provides skilled instruction. During the week of January 4, we are staying in one of their volunteer housing sites right off St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District. We have developed a strong relationship with the Diocese that runs one of the most comprehensive volunteer-based recovery groups along the Gulf Coast. Several Kenyon students have worked as interns for them during summer breaks.
Our trips offer more than an opportunity to volunteer. Students learn in great detail about the conditions left by Katrina, the failure of the levee system, and the controversy regarding the government rescue-and-recovery operation. Experiencing the city first-hand strikes a chord in volunteers, who are eager to share their experiences with others. Meaningful friendships form quickly on these trips, whether on the work site or when preparing a dinner for our group or while wandering the streets of the French Quarter. After a hard day of labor, students often spend a leisurely evening exploring the Crescent City. There's a lot to do and great places to eat and, of course, New Orleans is one of the friendliest cities out there.
Speaking from the heart, I love being involved in these trips. They obviously require a considerable amount of planning and fund-raising and that can be difficult at times, but Kenyon students never cease to amaze me. The students always bring an uplifting energy and a strong sense of caring. It makes me proud to do the work that we do, and proud to be a student at Kenyon.
This winter break, Molly McGannon '09 of Wilmington, North Carolina, and I are leading 14 students in New Orleans. And in an effort to expand our scope OhioAction decided to organize a trip to Galveston, Texas. Hannah Szlyk '09 of Goffstown, New Hampshire, is leading nine students to Galveston to help residents recover from last year's Hurricane Ike.
By Daniel Caplan '09, of Scarsdale, New York.