Service, Learning and Media: Park Scholars in New Orleans

 Eighteen senior Park Scholars traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana from January 16-22 to assist in Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. The experience allowed the scholars to experience New Orleans from a service and cultural perspective.

The Scholars stayed in a house owned by Hands on New Orleans, an organization that provides housing and service opportunities for volunteers in New Orleans, and volunteered through Beacon of Hope, a volunteer organization that offers community-building programs. Their volunteer work consisted of improving one man’s house in the Lower Ninth Ward, where they painted, sanded, caulked, sanded, cleaned and installed basic appliances. They also got to know the man, Wally Muhammad, and learn about his story, which made the volunteer process more personal and rewarding.

“It was really a wonderful experience getting to help Wally begin the finishing stages of his house,” said Becky Webster, a senior journalism major. “I would see him walk around during our volunteer hours and watch with a huge smile as we helped him rebuild his home and life. That smile made me realize that we were making the difference I hoped we would.”

The scholars also added to their experience with several group discussions regarding the economic and social issues facing New Orleans, as well as a guest lecture by Nick Slie, a local media artist. During their free time, the scholars explored the city and sampled local culture and food, and mingled with local residents.

According to senior cinema and photography major Christina Bryant, the perseverance of New Orleans’ people was evident during the trip.

“I think the people of New Orleans must be the most resilient citizens of the United States,” Bryant said. “During our short stay, we worked with such amazing born and raised New Orleanians who fought to come back and literally rebuilt their homes from the ground up during the day. Even truer to this one of a kind spirit, I was in awe to see the same folks filling the streets with live jazz music nightly in the French Quarter.

Upon returning to Ithaca, the scholars will produce several media pieces that will reflect their experience in New Orleans.

“The importance of producing media after our trip is to continue the conversation about New Orleans,” said senior television and radio major Karla Berberich. “This way, the trip is not just about 18 Park Scholars going down to New Orleans and sanding and painting a house. It allows us to examine many larger issues that affect communities throughout the United States.”


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