Warren Wilson College has a long-standing tradition of coming to the aid of those in need. On the heels of the hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast in late summer, that tradition continued. As the world was just beginning to realize the damage and destruction in the wake of the hurricanes, Franklin Tate and the Service Learning Office went to work organizing fall break service trips to the Gulf Coast. The response from students was overwhelming--twice as many signed up to participate as there were spaces for. "Very rarely is there a waiting list for the break trips," Tate said. Staff trip leaders stepped up and the Service Learning Office ran a participation lottery to select volunteers.
At go time, thirty-eight students and six staff members piled into vans and began the 17.5-hour drive to Louisiana. The group stayed in a community center in the small town of Four Corners.
In the small towns of New Iberia, Henry, Erath, Delcambre, and Lydia, which are about two hours west of New Orleans, the Warren Wilson group assisted the Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA), a non-profit that serves poor, rural families and the disabled. Initially, they canvassed neighborhoods to determine who needed help and gathered information on the specific needs of homeowners. Most of the manual labor involved cleaning out houses damaged by wind and floodwaters. Volunteers ripped down warped paneling and waterlogged sheetrock, removed drenched insulation, and pulled up wet carpet. But the work didn't center just on physical labor alone; workers provided a support base for hurricane victims. Keri Willever says the students were compassionate and genuinely interested in the homeowners and their stories. Some days, the work was emotionally taxing. "Often times we found ourselves with tears in our eyes or openly weeping," she says. "It was hard going into homes that were once filled with love, treasures, and memories and throwing things into great piles along the streets."