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Vail students offer help to New Orleans

Daily Staff Report
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyNick Wilhelm and Sean Minett take a break while cleaning a New Orleans home that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
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Editor’s note: In June 2007, a group of 10 students traveled to New Orleans with three Vail Mountain School teachers to help rebuild the city, many parts of which are still devastated from Hurricane Katrina.

Eight of the students attend Vail Mountain School and two attend Battle Mountain High School. They are members of Vail Mountain’s Ethically Engaged Youth, a “full immersion, service program whose mission is to offer high school students a comprehensive appreciation for the cultural, economic, geographic, and political confluence that results in endemic conditions of poverty,” according to school officials.

Some of the students have submitted essays about their experience in New Orleans for publication.

In the same summer that I worked in New Orleans I had another job, framing with my uncle. There were some similarities between framing and our work in New Orleans: both were outside, both were hot, and both were hard physical labor.

Still, the work in New Orleans was different. In New Orleans, on our first day of work, it rained on us but we kept working. We wanted to finish moving all the dirt that was covering the sidewalk and cut all of the weeds that were growing on the lawns so we kept working. We were told to stop because of the lightning and we were disappointed. On the other hand, when I was framing, at the end of the day I was more than happy to get home.

The difference between working in New Orleans and framing was that the work in New Orleans was to help out someone else so that they could live in the city they love with ease again, and that inspired me to want to work. Framing was my summer job where I was working for money to collect a paycheck ” I didn’t have the same motivation as I did working to help rebuild New Orleans. My compassion was enhanced by the response of the local’s appreciation. Everyday some one would always say “thank you” to us. Every time that someone said thanks to us it made me feel proud and inspired to do more.

The cultures between the people in New Orleans and at my summer job were similar in a sense ” culture is very important for a healthy society. Although, the cultures are certainly different from one another; they have their own types of music, food, art literature, and related intellectual activities. The type of music that the people of New Orleans listened to most was jazz, and the type of music that the guys at work over the summer listened to was musica Ranchera and Corridos, which are mostly songs about a story of a proud man.

The pride of many New Orleans people was not damaged by the hurricane. The achievements of the people will not be brought down by Hurricane Katrina. The people who are left in New Orleans now will take the burden of bringing back the culture of New Orleans; therefore, their culture will never be extinct thanks to these people who love their city so much that they are willing to give up their work and the lives that they had in order to keep their culture alive.

” Ruben Saucedo, Vail Mountain School junior

As our van drove through the neighborhood of Lakeview, the trash and debris that lined the streets made us all think that the storm had happened just the day before. As we drove down the streets of the first neighborhood we worked in it looked as if no one had lived in it since the 1960s. Lakeview was at one time a neighborhood full of wealthy families and many children. Now, with all of the rubble surrounding the neighborhood, it became an unsafe area for children to play. Unlike many other regions in New Orleans, the homeowners were the ones who gathered to establish the Beacon of Hope to clean up one yard at a time. Seeing the disaster and the ruin of many families’ homes, left the same way the hurricane had destroyed them, really devastated me. It was amazing that so many people would just leave all their belongings and not come back to them still after two years.

The second neighborhood we worked in was a lower-class neighborhood that after the storm had become the equivalent of a slum. When we arrived in New Orleans and heard we would be working in the Ninth Ward we were a bit frightened because we had heard rumors of violence occurring often in this area. Once we arrived in the neighborhood we were amazed to see the work ethic of the homeowners in this area. Looking down the street you could see almost everyone in the neighborhood still working on their homes two years after the storm had hit. So different than Lakeview, these people had no one to help them and no money to pay for aid.

While my friend and I stood outside the house of Fats Domino in the Ninth Ward, still left in squalor, we stared in fear looking down the street as a blue van with dark tinted windows headed our way. We looked at each other both knowing what the other was thinking as the van slowly continued our way. As the side of the van came into view we saw a large black man unrolling the window and upon doing so he waved at us with a smile, mouthing the words “thank you.” This was my most memorable moment during the week-long trip to the recovering city, for I knew after that instant that we were making a difference.

“Nicholas Anthony Wilhelm, Vail Mountain School


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