The University’s annual Alternative Breaks Program had to contend with new challenges this winter – not because of participants or planners, but due to mother nature.
The program, sponsored by the Office of Community Service, took students to Atlanta and New Orleans from Jan. 3 to Jan. 10 to work on reconstruction after natural disasters hit both areas. But unseasonably cold temperatures in the southern U.S. this winter – particularly in the Atlanta area – forced participants to alter their plans.
During the week of Jan. 3, the National Weather Service issued hard freeze warnings for much of Georgia and the South, with temperatures dipping into the low teens.
Students on the Atlanta trip said that the ground had become so hard due to the freezing weather that it was nearly impossible to perform the task they intended to do: rebuild Atlanta neighborhoods after a severe flood ravaged the area last year.
“It’s not that we haven’t been doing much,” said Javedan Siddiqui, a trip leader for the Atlanta trip. “We’re still doing flood relief, it just hasn’t been as reconstruction-focused.”
While some groups were still being sent to work on projects outdoors, others had to yield to the weather, changing plans and participating in indoor service projects.
Students helped rebuild drywall in the basement of the church in which they were staying. The church’s basement had flooded during the storm and the students helped with repairs that had been neglected.
The team from GW also worked with the City of Refuge, an aid group in Atlanta, helping out at food drives and collecting items for flood victims who were displaced from their homes.
Participants seemed understanding of the situation and continued to make the most of the trip.
“For the most part they’ve been great and going with the flow,” Siddiqui said.
Siddiqui also said that the changing circumstances had even allowed the trip participants to experience the city of Atlanta in new ways. A few members of the group, while riding in a taxicab, heard first-hand from the driver how quickly the flooding devastated the area.
Students in New Orleans also experienced cold weather, though not to the extent that those on the Atlanta trip did.
“It’s supposed to be 60-something, but it’s more like 40,” said Collin Stevenson, a Presidential Administrative Fellow who accompanied the group on the trip. “But it’s not slowing us down, you still get the impression that New Orleans is a very welcoming city.”
Participants on the New Orleans trip were able to continue to rebuild homes damaged after Hurricane Katrina and even tour the heavily devastated Lower Ninth Ward section of the city, despite the colder-than-usual temperatures.
“We’ve made a couple trips to Walmart to buy some warm gear,” said senior Chris Franzetti, a trip leader. “The weather is a little bit colder. We are expecting rain on Thursday, and rain and cold don’t mix well, but as long as we can get to the site, we’ll be working,” he said earlier in the week.