Name: Brenna Rene' WadeB-day: April 26, 1986Hometown: Suffolk, VAAstrological Sign: TaurusYear: SophmoreMajor: English Favorite Memory: Just hearing all of the different stories from the homeowners and seeing how positive they could be after losing practically all of their belongings.
Before we left... When I saw that there was going to be a class going down to New Orleans over J-term I really wanted to go. I remember watching the news and seeing how devastated it was down in New Orleans after the storm hit in late August. It reminded me of when Hurricane Isabel came and devastated areas in Franklin a few years back. I remembered people having to leave on boats and their homes having more than a few feet of standing water in them. From what I remembered, FEMA was pretty fast in helping these people and things were cleared up in what I think was a reasonable amount of time. Having seen the effects of Isabel on the areas near my house I couldn’t even imagine what Katrina, a category 4 hurricane when it struck land, had done to the coast. I had taken a class on American Media History first semester and knew that what I was seeing on the news and in the newspapers was probably not entirely accurate. I remember seeing on the news the government saying that everything was going to be rebuilt as best as it could be and the president said he had one of the best working with FEMA and whatnot. Now I absolutely love the president but I knew that there were things being held back and more that he could have done. I knew that there were so many people in need of a little help and thought that if such a disaster happened in my town that people would want to help as well. I signed up for the class a little nervously because I didn’t know if anyone else I knew was going or not, but it didn’t really matter. We had a few meetings to inform us of what we would be getting ourselves into when signing up for the class. We were told that we were going to have to pay $750 and that we would be staying at the Gretna United Methodist Church. We knew that it was going to take about 20 hours on a bus to get there and that the shower situation might be a little tight, but everyone in the class was still eager to get down there and help these families that had lost everything. The week before we went down there we had class everyday and different speakers came and talked to us. Prof. Malin was a native of New Orleans and talked to us about its history and about how to pronounce some of the words and just gave us more insight into the city. We had other speakers who came in to tell us of their experiences when they went down to work in a similar way that we were going to help. We had group projects that we presented to the class on different aspects of New Orleans and things we would probably encounter on the trip.
Going to New Orleans... On January 7th we all met at about 4 o’clock to get on a Scenic America tour bus and make our way down to New Orleans. We didn’t really know what to expect but when we woke up on the bus that Sunday morning and looked out of the windows it looked like the hurricane had just hit like four days ago. I couldn’t believe it had been over 4 months. It seriously looked like a third world country and from what was being said, there were much worse hit areas. We arrived at the church that morning and spent the rest of the day inflating our air mattresses and unpacking our things into the youth room. The bus took a bunch of students in our group on a tour of the different areas while a few of us decided to stay at the church and walk around the area where we saw a Mausoleum and a few other interesting places on our way. The next day was our first day of work. There were 29 students that were split into six different groups. We each had a designated role in the group and mine was spirit squad so Missy and I would run around with pom poms to make sure everyone was spirited. At the first house three groups were sent to two different sites. We were brought to the house next door to the one we were going to be working on and told that this was what the house was supposed to look like when we were done. This house was totally gutted to the wood beams and concrete floors and I think we were all a little stunned that we were supposed to make our house, which was filled with furniture and possession with waterlogged walls and moldy linoleum floors. We put our safety goggles and our respirator masks on and started taking out the big furniture. The homeowners of this first house were absolutely incredible. The wife was at work when a levee broke and she rushed home to get her children while wading through water to get to her car that was on a higher level in a parking garage. She managed to escape to Texas with her children but was unable to get in contact with her husband for four days. They had no idea if one another was alright but the husband said that since he is a police officer he knew that he needed to stay in the area to help with the after effects of Katrina. We worked on their house for two days and on the second day they served us homemade Gumbo. The family was incredible and when we had completed their house they told us that we were amazing and a miracle and that later in our weeks of work we might come to homes with people that are not as positive and that we need to remember our mission because what we are doing is God’s work. They even joked with us and told us that they were glad we knocked down some of their walls because they wanted to remodel anyways. Their spirit is something that remained with me, as well as many of my classmates, as we worked for the next two weeks. For the remainder of the week we worked on many different homes and met many amazing people. Before I came I had the mindset that the people were all in New Orleans just waiting for people to come and help them; although I am a bit embarrassed for thinking this, I thought that they were kind of lazy. I did not take into consideration, however, that once the storm hit these people had to move many hours away where they were now making a new life. Some families moved to Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta among other places where they cannot drive back to their homes on a regular basis due to money shortages and the fact that they want to stay with their families after such devastation has occurred. Also, at a majority of the houses that we worked at the families were right there beside us with a broom or a hammer or even just wanting to talk. The stories that I heard from the homeowners were heartfelt and it was an altogether humbling experience. We met three sisters and their mother and we worked on two of the sisters’ homes and the mother’s home. They all lived relatively close to one another and it was pretty neat that we were able to help all of them at once. They were all the nicest people ever; they brought us fried chicken and juice and made the whole experience a lot of fun. Ken had a hot water heater fall on his leg and two of the sisters came with us to the hospital where we had to wait for a very long time so it was fun to hear their stories. They told us that they were going to take us out to dinner on Thursday night so we were expecting a little dinner which we were excited about. To our surprise, when we got there they had rented out an entire restaurant for us where we were served sooo much food and good dessert and afterwards one of the sisters sang “let there be peace on earth” and it made us tear a little. They also had bought lots of gifts for us and we played the Chinese giving game. They also gave us all picture frames and we took pictures with them and right before we left one of the sisters said that for the next four years her and her husband would be attending our graduations.
Reflection... I couldn’t believe that we had found such genuine people and that I had any kind of bad feelings about coming into this trip. We finished 15 houses and carried out about 150 tons of debris. In the big scheme of things this might not seem like a lot but we gave 15 families a chance to start over again. This trip has allowed us not only to help these families but for these families to really help us. I have come out of this experience a much stronger person and am really glad that Randolph-Macon has allowed us a chance to spend our January this way. We saved these families over $42,000 but the pay back that these families have given us is in a way that money could never explain. Hurricane Andrew came and totally devastated 28,000 houses in that area of Florida and it took 12 years to finally get the area back to normal. Over 200,000 houses were destroyed in Katrina so it could take over a hundred years to get the area back to the way it was before the storm. If everyone does a little bit to help, like 15 houses, then the city will rebuild and become as strong as it ever was before we know it.