Deaf Students from GU Help Rebuild New Orleans

A group of Gallaudet students, accompanied by a staff member, flew to New Orleans, La., for Spring Break to volunteer with Rebuilding Together New Orleans (RTNO), a non-profit organization that renovates and rebuilds homes damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

RTNO focuses on homes owned by low-income people who are either elderly, have a disability, or are single heads of household with minor children. The organization’s goals for the fiscal year 2009-10 include rebuilding 160 homes through the efforts of 6,000 volunteers.

The Gallaudet volunteer team (pictured) was made up of students Krystin Balzarini, Malibu Barron, Michelin Barron, Lisa Craig, Joy Faychinaud, Laine Fisher, Betty Goodridge, Mercedes Hunter, Sean Kingsley, Stefanie Koren, team co-leaders John Bechhold and Monica Keller, and Community Service Program Coordinator Karen Terhune.

The group was assigned to a house owned by an elderly low-income woman (pictured standing, wearing a red sweater) in the city’s Ward 11 that was severally damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The owner, who had lived in the house for over 30 years, evacuated two days prior to the hurricane and was unable to return home for five months. Prior to RTNO taking on the project, no rehabilitation work had been performed and, consequently, the home remained uninhabitable.

The Gallaudet team reported to the worksite each day at 8:30 a.m. After being briefed on the day’s work by RTNO site manager Joey Bonanno (pictured toward front, with sunglasses), the students and staff were assigned specific tasks, including scraping off old paint, removing nails, caulking, and puttying wood siding, and applying a fresh coat of paint to the exterior of the 135-year-old house. On the team’s final workday, the homeowner visited the site and met the team members. She was amazed at the tremendous transformation that had taken place, and effusively and emotionally thanked the team for its hard work.

Interpreting services at the worksite were provided by Deaf Action Center, a social service and sign language interpreter agency in New Orleans.

While the team’s primary purpose for traveling to New Orleans was to perform community service, they did have some “downtime.” For example, one evening the team rode the streetcar to the city’s famous French Quarter to view the boisterous St. Patrick’s Day parade.

On their last day in New Orleans, the team visited Ward 9, the area just beyond the city’s levees. The failure of these levees caused 80 percent of New Orleans to be flooded by between three feet and 20 feet of water.

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