Norwich Volunteers Visit Gulf Area

A group of students and staff members from Norwich University had a different kind of spring break this year. Instead of heading out for fun in the sun, this group joined in a massive disaster relief effort.

Two student-led groups from the University traveled to New Orleans, La., and Gulfport, Miss., to join the ongoing efforts to assist those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Several University staff members accompanied the students and served as advisors. The trip was an alternative spring break program designed to help Norwich students place service above self.

The New Orleans team, comprised mostly of members from the Norwich Habitat for Humanity club, traveled to the St. Bernard's Parish area. Student leader Zeb Snow said, "Certain parts of the area were just completely flattened. The houses we worked on were going to be rebuilt. So, we went in and removed damaged sheetrock and flooring."

"We met some of the locals while we were there," Snow recalled. "One man (whose home the group was working on) told us that after the storm, he went back to his home and opened the front door and when he saw all the damage, he just left. He hadn't returned until after we took apart the whole interior of the house and cleaned it out," Snow said. "He told us now he feels hopeful; he got a new start."

The second Norwich team went to Gulfport, Miss., also hard hit by Katrina. The group did everything from stabilizing a fireplace sinking into one home's foundation to scrubbing away the persistent mold still clinging to many damaged structures in the region.

Andrew Kettner, the Gulfport team's student leader, originally had other plans for Spring Break, but something changed his mind. "I was going to go to Las Vegas," Kettner said, "but that was going to be pretty expensive. Once I saw the flyer for this trip, I said, 'I'm going.' I thought this would be more worthwhile."

The trips were part of the University's NU VISIONS; Alternative Break initiative, led by Nicole DiDomenico, Director of Volunteer Programs at Norwich. The idea is to introduce some of the participants to what she calls the, "circle of service."

"These trips help give students a sense of belonging," DiDomenico said. "When you help others in need you realize what kind of a difference you can make as an individual. It gives you a whole new outlook and enthusiasm in your relationship to other people," she added.