Palm Beach Atlantic University sophomore Kayla Viaud was only 13 when Hurricane Katrina took its devastating toll on the city of New Orleans.
"I remember seeing it on TV. My heart was wrenching," the journalism major said.
|Kayla Viaud stands outside of a home that PBA students helped repair in New Orleans. The nonprofit organization Phoenix of New Orleans is overseeing the reconstruction of several homes in the city.|
Led by those memories, Viaud joined a group of 11 PBA students on a week-long road trip to New Orleans earlier this month. The trip, organized through PBA’s Workship office, gave the students an opportunity to help renovate homes that have been in disrepair since the 2005 storm.
The team worked with Phoenix of New Orleans, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the recovery of the residents of affected areas by rebuilding quality affordable housing and developing the community assets necessary for a vital neighborhood.
Another organization, the United Saints Recovery Project, provided dormitory-style housing for the students during their stay.
For four days, the students worked in two teams to repair houses. One team worked on a single-family home that had been submerged beneath as much as six feet of water at one point after the storm, said Amanda Lynch, PBA’s AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who accompanied the students on the trip.
It took the students only about half a day to install insulation in the upstairs area, she said. Afterward, part of the team learned how to hang drywall and the other part of the team installed floor tiles.
Later, the entire group worked on exterior grouting and painting projects.
The second team worked on a duplex belonging to a longtime resident. The students worked on such projects as installing baseboards, refinishing floors, installing grout in the kitchen and painting closet doors, Viaud said.
The homeowner, Warren Meggs, was frequently at the site and brought the volunteers Popsicles every afternoon, Viaud said. "He was very appreciative for what was done for him," she said.
Between tasks, the students were able to go on an educational tour of various New Orleans neighborhoods. In the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward, they observed several new energy-efficient homes that are under construction. The group also toured part of the levee system that protects the city.
Other highlights included a visit to the French Quarter and a chance to sample beignets from Café Du Monde.
Overall, the trip revealed a different picture of post-Katrina New Orleans than what has been portrayed in the news media, the volunteers said.
While a perception exists that outsiders have driven the recovery effort, "a lot of the work has been done by the people who live there," Lynch said.
"Many of the people from Louisiana don’t get as much credit as they should for what they’ve done."