Published: March 20, 2008
On a residential street in the heart of New Orleans, a group of
volunteers convened at a house that, like many in the area, had been
vacant the three years since Hurricane Katrina. Together, the
volunteers worked to chip away the old paint that covered the home’s
exterior before applying a fresh coat to give it a brand new look. The
group also worked to paint the home’s new interior walls – an essential
step in bringing the home back to life for its owner, who had lived in
a trailer since the hurricane.
It was an important job for
the 15 volunteers, all University of Tampa students, who spent the week
of March 9-15 in New Orleans working with the nonprofit agency
Rebuilding Together as part of Alternative Spring Break.
The annual Alternative Spring Break, sponsored by the UT student group
(People Exploring Active Community Experience), is billed as an
alternative to the “traditional” spring break, sending students to
locations throughout the southeastern U.S. to participate in various
“It was a very eye-opening experience,”
said Katrina Vidal, the alternative breaks coordinator for PEACE. “Some
of the students want to go back or raise money to continue to help
In between painting, the volunteers took time to
listen to the local residents who occasionally stopped by to watch the
work that was being done. The residents told of watching people climb
up to sit on the roofs of houses where they waited to be rescued in the
aftermath of the storm. They told of having their homes destroyed and
of having to live in tents and government-provided trailers. And they
told of the helplessness they felt not knowing what to do in the
aftermath of a disaster that claimed the lives of many of their fellow
For Josh Murphy, a UT senior, the experience struck an emotional chord.
“Hearing about what their lives were like before and after was quite
amazing,” Murphy said. “I was surprised because I thought they would be
more angry about all that has happened, but they were just very
grateful for the work we were doing. They were still hopeful and
looking to the future.”
Previous Alternative Spring Break
projects have focused on Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts elsewhere.
Last year’s group traveled to Meridian, MS, where they spent the week
constructing new homes for residents who had relocated there after
UT sophomore Ellery McCardle applied to participate in the New Orleans having previously done smaller volunteer projects.
“I wanted to do a larger-scale project and thought this would be a
great way,” McCardle said. “PEACE really motivates students to reach
out to other communities and volunteer there. We would be working and
people would walk by and yell ‘thank you!’ That really made the whole
Students wanting to participate in
Alternative Spring Break apply during the fall semester for one of the
15 available spots. The popularity of Alternative Spring Break in
particular, among the rest of PEACE’s many yearly volunteer projects,
has led the group’s organizers to start planning for a future
“Alternative Winter Break” or other similar trips.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to have two trips next year,” Vidal said.
“We’re working on expanding the program so that we don’t have to turn
people away. We’re so proud of the work that the students are able to