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Cleaning Up: Student Spring Break Trip Helps Out Gulf Coast Residents

Rather than spending time in the sunny climes of the standard student spring break destinations, Juniata students decided to help others as about 20 students and staff traveled to St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, La., to help clean up from the devastating Aug. 29 Hurricane Katrina storm.

"I donít think any of us were fully prepared to see what had happened to these homes," says David Witkovsky, Juniata chaplain and leader of the group that went to St. Bernard parish (one of the hardest-hit flood areas).

Two Juniata groups went to the Gulf Coast. One led by Lisa Baer, Catholic chaplain, and Rosalie Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, went to Lucedale, Miss., where they repaired damaged homes. In St. Bernard Parish, the Juniata group cleaned out homes that had been under 15 feet of water, sludge and sewage during the worst flooding.

"Everybody thought they were prepared from seeing the damage on the news," says Amanda Partington í08, a sophomore from Olney, Md. "We arrived and we were lost for 45 minutes because there are no street signs, no people to ask for directions and there is nothing left standing."

The Juniatians spent most of the time cleaning out homes and stripping the drywall from house framing. "It was pretty bad. We found refrigerators that smelled so bad we didnít want to know what was in there. We just duct-taped them tightly and took them out of the house," Partington says.

The groups worked March 6-10 in the Gulf Coast, and one homeowner wrote this on her blog: "As we tackled the house, I saw that these girls knew what they were doing. This was not the first house they had gutted. They worked together seamlessly, and so FAST. I could barely keep up with them. They weren't afraid of anything."