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Working Hard in the Big Easy over Alternative Spring Break

Written by Colleen Shea '09
1/11/2010

Lucien DeLaBruere '09 hammers drywall into Pastor Bruce and Deborah Davenport's home in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. Photo courtesy of the author.

Jazz plays sweetly beneath the bump of pop and rock down Decatur Street. Bustling crowds jostle across Bourbon Street, clinking glasses filled with Hurricanes and biting into muffalettas while onlookers hurl colorful beads from balconies. It’s hard to find any remnants of Hurricane Katrina here in the French Quarter. However, not three miles away, they’re still singing the blues.

Entire neighborhoods remain vacant. The sagging roofs of dilapidated homes slump down into the weeds. Repossessed-property tags cling to doorknobs, and overgrown lots with nothing left but concrete steps conjure the ghosts of dead or displaced families.

As Pastor Bruce Davenport of the St. John #5 Faith Church says, “This ain’t no Quarter. This is the Seventh Ward.”

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in 2005, it became the costliest natural disaster in American history, ravaging the city of New Orleans with wind and water. Now pockets of the city have revived and become reinvigorated, but others remain completely devastated. One of the struggling neighborhoods is the Seventh Ward, where Pastor Davenport and his wife, Deborah, are working tirelessly to help get the community back on its feet.

In March, Ithaca College’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program sent a group to the region, this time to lend a hand to the Davenports through Love Knows No Bounds.

Slide show best viewed in full screen.


The College started ASB in 2003 in order to provide students with the opportunity to perform community service during the week of spring break, says Deb Mohlenhoff, assistant director of community service and leadership development, who accompanied students on this year’s trip to New Orleans.

“Students are a little wary of stepping outside their comfort zones,” Mohlenhoff explains. “But once they take that first step, they come back to campus knowing that they have the power to positively impact other people’s lives in a big way.”

Mohlenhoff also went on the first ASB trip to New Orleans in 2006 and says that although the city has made strides, parts of it are still in shambles and are in great need of assistance. “It was astonishing to drive through certain neighborhoods like the Seventh and Ninth Wards and see how much has been utterly untouched since Katrina,” she recalls. “There is still so much work to be done.”

Although each ASB trip has a faculty or staff adviser, students take on the roles of organizers, managers, and coordinators. One of the coleaders for this year’s New Orleans ASB trip was television-radio major Lucien DeLaBruere ’09.

After participating for the first time in ASB and in hurricane relief efforts in Louisiana in 2008, he was so moved by the heartbreak and the hope of the region that he wanted to lead a group his senior year at IC. “I’ve met some of the most amazing and inspiring people through ASB,” DeLaBruere says. “At the end of the day, I really feel like I have made some positive change.”

New Orleans native Macy Sutton ’12, one of 23 students on the trip to the Seventh Ward, says that she chose a service-oriented spring break over the typical fun-in-the-sun-style respite because she wanted to make a difference.

“I find it absolutely appalling that the city is in such a state of disarray three and a half years after Katrina hit,” she says. “I wanted to help other students to understand the problems that New Orleans is facing firsthand, and I wanted to help them do something about it.”

Students worked on several projects while in the Seventh Ward. One group repainted the basement of St. John #5 Faith Church, as well as the exteriors of a computer education center and an HIV assistance center in the community. “We painted over moldy water-level lines on the buildings that had been there for years,” Sutton says. “The entire process was incredibly moving.”

Another group of students hung drywall and painted the first floor of Pastor Davenport’s home, which has been unoccupied since Katrina. ASB volunteer Danielle Sherwood ’11 couldn’t believe that Pastor Davenport was still living in a FEMA trailer, while his wife stayed with her sister.

“I was astonished that these people had put the community first and sacrificed working on their own home and well-being in order to get the community-assistance facilities up and running,” Sherwood says. “Their story and their dedication really touched me.”

The Davenports were more than grateful for the College’s aid. “I don’t think of neighbors in terms of who lives next door,” says Pastor Davenport. “I think of neighbors who are there when you need them. The government isn’t going to help us right now, but that’s why God sent us people like you all from Ithaca College.”
 



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