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ISSUE 120 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/13/2007

‘Ole Spring Relief II’ succeeds

By Miriam Samuelson
News Editor


Friday, April 13, 2007

On Saturday, March 24, about 150 St. Olaf students awoke early to board vans for a long ride to New Orleans. While many college students spend their break on the beach or catching up on homework, these students dedicated their week to cleaning up the still-present Hurricane Katrina damage on St. Olaf's second annual service trip to New Orleans.

Dubbed "Ole Spring Relief II" (OSR II) by the Student Government Association (SGA) and other organizers of the trip, this project served to assist those in New Orleans still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. OSR II worked through Lutheran Disaster Response to arrange clean-up in three separate areas of the city. "Lutheran Disaster Response set us in the middle of communities that had been hit pretty hard, said Ishanaa Rambachan '08, a member of the organizing committee. "They work with the infrastructure of the community to work effectively, and they contact those in the community to find out who needs help the most.

A committee of students, co-chaired by Tremaine Versteeg '07, Tony Olson '07 and Victor Wong '08, began meeting in October to plan this year's trip. Having one year of service in New Orleans under its belt helped the committee, according to Versteeg.

"It wasn't quite as big of a guessing game as last year, she said, "but going to New Orleans [as opposed to last year's other destination, Biloxi] and trying to gauge how much interest there would be this year were new challenges."

According to the Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC) report last fall, the trip would "reflect St. Olaf's commitment to the education of the mind, body and spirit," and would emphasize "St. Olaf's commitment as a college of service."

Students stayed at three New Orleans churches, sleeping in trailers or oversized tents and using port-a-potties for bathrooms.

"The site that housed us was amazing, said Alissa Broz '08, who participated in the program in 2006 and in 2007. "I was with about 40 other Oles and the community made it so much fun to be there."

Mark Forsberg '08, another two-year participant, said that the "great group of people made it easy to do hard work."

The tasks these students took on were by no means easy. "Last year we mostly cleaned up debris," Rambachan said, "but this year we were sent in to gut homes that didn't have insurance." Versteeg added that "students had the chance to do some more skilled labor like masonry, roofing and electrical work.'

Students worked in teams of eight to 10 with a supervisor, gutting homes in preparation for rebuilding or tearing down. "Most of the houses I worked on hadn't been touched since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, which was shocking to me," said Broz. "Except for the water damage, the house looked as though someone could have lived here yesterday, which made it all the more real to us."

In order to protect themselves from harmful chemicals, students covered their entire bodies while they worked. "The only hard part was contending with the heat," Emily Koester '08 said. "We were outfitted from head to toe in a protective suit, and we had to wear a respiratory mask, goggles, work boots and two pairs of gloves. In New Orleans humidity.

However, the group kept a positive attitude throughout the trip. "Seeing how grateful people were made the hard work entirely worth it," Broz said. "So many people stopped us and said 'God bless you for being here,' and one woman was in tears as she thanked us.

Many of the participants came back from the trip with convictions about the need for ongoing service in New Orleans. "One man said to me, 'if nothing else, take back with you that New Orleans is not well.' There's still a lot to be done," Broz said.

In planning the trip, Versteeg thought about the goals that the committee had for the students. "This is a big commitment for people to make during spring break. I had high hopes that everyone would be able to gain more insight on the continual ramifications of Katrina and realize the profound impact that their service has on the residents of the area," she said. "It is a powerful thing when you see part of St. Olaf's mission being lived out away from the Hill and this trip accomplished that."

Participants and leaders alike shared St. Olaf's commitment to leading lives of worth and service for their week together in New Orleans. "It made me realize how fulfilling service can be, Olson said. "It's been one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done, and it definitely changed my perspective on how much we can take for granted."

Versteeg agreed. Gratified by how well the trip went this year, she said, "These experiences are not only memorable, but life changing as well."





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