Fairfield University LEAF club repairs New Orleans home, volunteer at shelter for pets left homeless by Hurricane Katrina



Image: Dog and studentMore than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, a group of Fairfield University students is on a mission to set things right for those who were left homeless.

The twenty-four students spent part of their holiday break repairing the home of a New Orleans woman living in a FEMA trailer. The students also volunteered at a shelter for pets abandoned after the tragic flooding. They are mostly members of LEAF - Leaders for Environmental Action at Fairfield, a university club for those inspired by a mission of marrying social justice causes with environmental stewardship.            

"We worked on a house in the Broadmoor section, which was one of the hardest hit neighborhoods," said junior Terry O'Brien, who helped lead the trip. "Our house captain estimated that only about 45 percent of the pre-Katrina residents had returned."

The homeowner, a native New Orleanian from a large Creole family, hasn't been able to occupy her Gentilly neighborhood home since it was damaged by floodwaters in 2005. She has lived with relatives on and off since then, until finally settling into the government trailer now parked in her front yard. The woman, who works for a major hotel in the city, plans to move back into the home with her brother and ailing mother.

"The reason her house still has not been worked on was because she had been ripped off by a contractor," said O'Brien, of Rumson, N.J. "He agreed to do some work on her house and then proceeded to take the money and leave. This is apparently a common happening in New Orleans now."

Image: Students in New OrleansStudents from the university have been travelling to New Orleans for the past several years, providing critical repairs to the homes of low-income residents in still struggling neighborhoods of the city. During the weeklong endeavor, students caulked and sealed the house, then primed and painted it. They did so with assistance from the Washington, D.C.-based Rebuilding Together, an organization focusing on providing low-income or disabled homeowners with sustainable solutions through home repair and neighborhood revitalization efforts. The non-profit promotes sustainability by using building materials that leave a minimal environmental footprint.  

Fairfield students also volunteered at Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) a non-profit animal shelter relying solely on donations and volunteers to operate. ARNO, founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi, is dedicated to the rescue and aid of abandoned and homeless animals, and responds to the immediate needs of those animals in need of medical care, or who have been neglected, abused and deprived of love. It's a vital organization, students said. Many displaced residents couldn't relocate to new housing with their pets, while others simply fled the city without having time to find their animals as floodwaters rose. "There we're hundreds of abandoned animals after the storm because their owners either died or had to evacuate quickly," said O'Brien. "ARNO helps to rehabilitate them, give them all the necessary vaccinations and house them, and eventually, hopefully, find an owner."

LEAF is comprised of students seeking to promote awareness of environmental issues through education, programming, and activism. To join the e-mail list and find out where you can attend LEAF's weekly meetings, contact leaf.fairfield@gmail.com.

For more information about ARNO, visit www.animalrescueneworleans.org.

Images are of student Maggie O'Donnell at Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), a non-profit animal shelter founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Group shot of LEAF members in front of home they repaired in the Broadmoor section in New Orleans.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on February 7, 2011

Vol. 43, No. 194