H2o travels south to help with hurricane clean-up

“After six months it looks like New Orleans hasn’t even been touched.”

Jessica Cooper was one of 25 BGSU students to go on h2o church’s spring break trip to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area last August.

Members of h2o use campus for church services and activities as an outlet for local college students or other young people in the Bowling Green area. Volunteers fundraised at their local churches to pay for transportation and food on the trip and left March 3. When they reached New Orleans, the students met up with others from Ball State to begin the week-long process of demolition and reconstruction.

Matt McCoure, one of h2o’s group leaders, started his work each day on the trip at dawn with hard labor after traveling the 25 minutes each day to the work site from Slidell, Louisiana.

“It was extremely sad,” he said. “We met this one woman who was so stubborn that she refused to leave her neighborhood. She had lived in her car after the storm destroyed her house and had just recently bought a trailer. After she moved in we helped her set up her electricity and tried to talk to her for a few minutes.”

This woman was one of many they met who felt so connected to the area that they stayed even after they lost their homes and belongings.

“These individuals are desperate to talk to somebody, they were appreciative and encouraging, always keeping an optimistic outlook,” McCoure said. “Our group did really well with coping with reality and being positive, even after working 12 hours a day. They realized that there was so much work to be done, we really did all that we could.”

Volunteers brought hope to families who had lost everything. Personal possessions that had been water-logged and left behind still sat in front yards after the owners had given up and moved away.

Jessica Burkholder gave up spring break with her family in order to take the trip to New Orleans.

“I guess I wanted people to get their lives back, to put a face on the situation and overall to bring hope,” she said.

Burkholder’s group talked with a man named Steve who had moved to Tennessee with his family after the hurricane. With his family safe, Steve made the trip from Tennessee to Louisiana frequently and was trying to do the work alone.

“His whole house was flooded six to eight feet and all of his things were ruined. It really was heartbreaking, he said that if we wouldn’t have helped him it might have taken him months to repair all of the damage,” Burkholder said.

After the students returned they still remained optimistic about New Orleans.

“I was glad of how thankful they all were, just to have this help. We saw a woman who had a shopping cart to her name. We gave her a cup of coffee and she acted like she had just won the lottery,” Cooper said.

The group mostly worked on ripping out drywall, throwing away old furniture and repairing anything that wasn’t beyond recognition.

Even though h2o volunteered their time, the work is far from over with so much more to be done, even six months after the storm.