Nov. 17, 2006
by Katie Stuhldreher
Fall break is an important time for most students. The week-long vacation in October usually falls right after mid-terms week, presenting students with the much-needed opportunity to take a trip with friends, catch up on homework and job applications, or just go home and sleep.
For a group of Notre Dame student-athletes, however, fall break meant much more than this. A group of 15 student-athletes and five administrators drove a bus from South Bend to New Orleans, La., to help repair some of the hardest hit areas of town after Hurricane Katrina decimated much of the city last year.
Charmelle Green, director of Student-Athlete Development and Welfare, remarks, “It was unbelievable how much work remains to be done down there still, even though the hurricane hit a year ago. It was surprising to see that so many areas are still in such bad shape. It was a like a ghost town.”
Green says the idea to take the group of students to New Orleans from Oct. 14-18, began when a representative from the School of Urban Mission (SUM), a Christian service and academic institution, spoke to the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. The students decided that they wanted to do more to help out in New Orleans and talked to Green and other administrators about setting up the trip.
“Some of the students were interested in doing something like this, so we got the okay from the NCAA and found enough funding from alumni to do this,” she says.
Since the fall and winter sports teams needed to stay on campus to practice or compete, most of the participants in the trip were from spring sports teams. Fencing, track and field, cheerleading, lacrosse, rowing, equipment workers, and student managers were represented on the trip. Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White also participated, as well as several administrators: Harold Swanagan, Nina Stephan, and Nadja Memmer.
Caitlin McKinney, a member of the women’s lacrosse team, says, “One of the best parts of the trip was that I met several other athletes from other teams. I may never have met these people, but while working together we got to know each other quite well.”
Green attested to the camaraderie the students showed during the trip: “After a long day of work clearing out houses, the students always got together and prayed. Then they always said, `Go Irish!'”
The participants on the trip completed a variety of tasks to help repair neighborhoods devastated by Katrina. They sealed leaky roofs, cut back trees and debris still left in yards and on houses, and “mudded out” homes of local residents (ie, cleared the houses of debris and ruined belongings).
“Seeing pictures of the destruction of Katrina do not even begin to explain the devastation that the victims have undergone. Seeing it in person is unbelievable. These people have lost everything, and even after more than a year they are continuing to rebuild their lives and put the pieces back together, ” remarks Maggie McGinn, a member of the cheerleading squad.
Students Removing Debris
She continues, “Meeting with the victims has given me a newfound respect and gratefulness for all that I have been blessed with.”
The bus ride was long and the task daunting for the participants, but they all agreed that it was worthwhile and eye-opening.
Shannon Burke, a member of the women’s lacrosse team, says, “A figure was thrown at us the first day we got there, relating the amount of total damage to the amount of houses already cleaned up: 200,000 houses destroyed, 50,000 cleaned up. This was unbelievable to me and I knew we had our work cut out for us.”
Burke highlighted how difficult the work was during the trip. While most students were relaxing at home after their exams, the participants in the New Orleans trips spent long hours lifting and cleaning.
“The first day of work was more brutal than I could have expected: four hours gutting trim, cabinets, bathtubs, sinks, and doorframes was exhausting, but after a one-hour lunch break, we were back at it for another four hours, this time destroying the walls and pulling out all the nails throughout the house,” she says.
Maryann Erigha, a member of the track and field squad, echoes Burke’s thoughts. “I felt like I was taking a crash course in carpentry. Gutting out houses is really taxing. If I didn’t practice every day, there is no way I could have handled eight hours of physical labor.”
Burke adds, “While the work was quite brutal, the look on the home owners’ faces, while they prayed with us, when they went out of their way to bring us all lunches, when they shared their stories with us and thanked us from the bottom of their hearts for our help, was completely worth all the work.”
Many student-athletes who went on the trip said that the service aspect of it deepened their faith.
Daniel Clark, a member of the track and field team, says, “It was uplifting when I had the chance to speak with people we served as well as the neighbors. Amidst all the destruction of homes, neighborhoods, and schools the people remained optimistic. They did not lose faith in the worst of times and trust that God will work everything out.”
Other students stressed how good it felt to be able to make a concrete difference in helping a city get back on its feet after a national disaster.
“Last year, I could only help through money contributions, and it was a good feeling to actually be there, talking to the victims, and hearing their stories. The best part was being able to see the results of our contributions, ” remarks Kelly Gaudreau, a member of the women’s lacrosse team.
Elise Janowak, a member of the women’s rowing team, says, “Even if what we did only impacted a few individuals, it is reassuring to know that our actions have initiated a change for the better.”
Notre Dame Contingent
Green said that although many individual sports teams undertake service projects, this trip marked the first time that the entire student-athlete community at Notre Dame came together for a service trip.
“This is just what the Notre Dame spirit is all about. We’ve had many different student groups already do a lot to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Service is a big part of our community and so many students and faculty members are involved. It’s just a part of being the Fighting Irish,” Green says.
She encourages other members of the Notre Dame community interested in getting involved in the relief efforts in New Orleans to contact local churches or visit SUM’s Web sit: www.sumonline.org.
“The most shocking thing was how many areas haven’t even been touched yet, even a year later. The biggest thing right now is to get the word out that so much work remains to be done down there and how much help those people still need.”