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Zeitoun Day: Panelists recount volunteer experiences in New Orleans

by Hilary Brumberg

In the Community Service Panel, speakers discussed how they have aided the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the opportunities available for others to do the same.

The panelists were television production aide Amanda Mazzola, carpentry teacher Garrett Tingle, seniors Renae Rabb and Grace Wolfe, Ned Weitzman ’11 and community members John Solan and Tom Taylor. English teacher Peter Goddard, who also teaches the Leadership in a Diverse Society Class, served at the moderator of the session, which was held in 164.

For the past five years, Goddard has led a week-long Leadership Class community service trip to New Orleans. Tingle and his carpentry majors have joined them for the past three years.

Tingle said that carpentry student involvement was born out of the sense that “as skilled builders we have something to offer that other people don’t, so why not have a shared sense of responsibility?”

Wolfe, a carpentry major who has gone of the trip for the past three years, said that she participates because “if my house was destroyed, I’d want someone to help,” she said.

Weitzman said that many people have forgotten about Hurricane Katrina and have moved on to other natural disasters. When he told his friends and teachers that he was going on the community service trip with the Leadership Class, many responded, “Oh, I didn’t know that was still a thing.”

In reality, it will take 25 to 30 years before all of New Orleans is the way it was pre-Katrina, according to Wolf.

Tingle and Wolfe reflected on the first time the trip was held, three years ago. The 20 participating students spent the majority of the week rebuilding one house. When at the end of the week, the students and chaperones had to leave the job partially completed. They figured that another group of volunteers would come and start where the students from this school left off.

However, when Tingle, Wolfe and many other students visited the house the following year, excited to see a finished product, it was in the same condition as when they left. The owner of the house, who was sitting in his truck reading a newspaper in the exact same spot as he had been the previous year, told the students and chaperones that no one had come to his house since they left.

Rabb, a member of the Leadership Class, participated in last year’s trip to New Orleans. She said that one memorable part of the trip was when a few students from the Leadership Class, who were painting a house nearby, visited a local school.

“It had been completely flooded, and there were desks and books everywhere,” Rabb remembered. “The artwork on the walls had water damage. There were lesson plans written on the board with dates from August 2005.” The school was frozen in time.

Rabb said the trip changed her viewpoint on life. “It makes you want to not go off and worry about yourself when so many people need your help.”

As a senior, Rabb is applying to colleges in New Orleans because “us kids are able and healthy to help out people who need it,” she said.

Mazzola, Solan and Taylor also talked about their contributions to post-Katrina New Orleans.

Before she came to this school, Mazzola was an AmericCorps VISTA volunteer for two years. After Hurricane Katrina hit, she moved to Cradles to Crayons to help the children who moved to the Greater Boston area from the Gulf Coast.

Solan, Newton parent, has been on more than a dozen rebuilding trips to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He is co-chairman of the Social Action Committee of Temple Shalom in Newton and an active board member of the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Taylor was not employed, so he was free to fly to Mississippi to help. He was the first volunteer to arrive in the project, which eventually hosted 2,500 volunteers over five months.

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