Students to help rebuild New Orleans communities over spring break

Like many other students, sophomore Jacqueline Miller-Meher is heading south this spring break. But Miller-Meher is not headed to the beach – she’s going to rebuild a city.

This year, GW’s Office of Community Service is sending 44 undergraduate and graduate students to New Orleans for Alternative Spring Break.

The students will be working along with Habitat for Humanity and several other college alternative spring break teams to remove debris from areas wrecked by Hurricane Katrina and to clean up communities. As part of the cleanup process, students will be going through ruined houses and throwing out destroyed valuables. They will be stationed in tent cities in St. Bernard Parish, an area about five miles outside of New Orleans.

While the Office of Community Service normally sends small groups of students to several areas, the disastrous Hurricane Katrina last September made it clear that this year, all efforts should focus on New Orleans.

“The students are responsible for choosing where to go,” said Sara Horn, coordinator of Alternative Spring Breaks. “They saw it on TV last year and wanted to experience it first hand.”

The idea of the program was so popular that the Office of Community Service had to begin a wait list for interested students.

“Our original intent was to take about 20 students, but we had so much interest we decided to take 44,” Horn said.

The students pay a fee of $250 to go on the trip. They’ll be traveling by bus to Louisiana.

In past years students have traveled to North Carolina, West Virginia, Mississippi and Michigan. Projects vary annually with missions ranging from building houses with Habitat for Humanity to volunteering for a battered women’s shelter.

The reasons for going on an Alternative Spring Break trip are just as diverse as the projects. For Miller-Meher, who will be serving as a team leader for the group, the path to Alternative Spring Break began as a way that she and her roommate could take a vacation together and also do some good.

“At first it was just a free trip,” Miller-Meher said, “but now I’ve gotten kind of passionate about helping.”

Even though the days will be emotionally and physically demanding, Miller-Meher is excited about spending her break in an unconventional way. She said, “I can do a typical spring break anytime. When am I going to get a chance like this, especially with the circumstances in New Orleans?”

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