On Friday (Oct. 14), 99 students, faculty and staff members from Converse College and Clemson University left for Metairie, La., where they will spend their fall break days helping Metairie citizens rebuild from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Another 45 alumni, parents, and others from the Charleston and Clemson areas are also participating in the trip. This group will return on Tuesday evening (Oct. 18).
In addition to the 144 individuals traveling to the area, a truck has also been donated for use by West Point Stevens in Seneca. The truck will be filled with building materials, stuffed animals for children, and other relief items, thanks to the donations by various individuals and churches in the Upstate.
With a population of approximately 160,000 Metairie is located below sea level on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and was the first suburb of New Orleans. As Hurricane Katrina approached the area, Metairie citizens were under a mandatory evacuation order. While the community was spared from heavy water damage, severe wind damage was sustained. The Converse and Clemson groups will assist American Red Cross representatives with assessing community needs, working to clear debris and helping families repair their homes.
Rosa Yancich, a Converse freshman from Metairie majoring in psychology and theatre, is one of the student co-leaders of the effort. “I am so excited that so many people are willing to help out the citizens of my hometown,” she said. “It really means a lot to me that they are so loving to others who are in need. Personally, I have no home anymore because a neighboring building landed on top of my house, so my mom will get an RV for the time being. I am truly sorry for the families that lost everything, and I just can’t wait to be down there and fellowship with them.”
Just after the storm, Yancich was unable to reach her family and friends. “It was really hard at first because a lot of them were evacuated, so they didn’t have access to their computers, and their cell phones weren’t working because the towers were all damaged by the storm,” she said. “After most of them returned home, I was eventually able to get in touch with them and have been in touch since through phone, e-mail and online chat conversations. It was a great relief to know that my best friends were safe.”
Steve Simoneaux, the assistant campus minister for the Clemson Wesley Foundation (the United Methodist Campus Ministry leading the Clemson group), is also traveling with the group. Most of Steve’s extended family resided in areas around New Orleans, including Metairie. “Knowing that this many people are coming down is really bringing hope to them,” Simoneaux said about his family’s reaction to the group coming down to help. Simoneaux also mentioned how impressed he is of this many students willing to sacrifice their fall break to help those in need.
Simoneaux and several relatives drove into the area the week after Katrina hit to survey the damage to their homes and retrieve some important things left behind. “The city was obviously not the city I grew up in. You didn’t recognize things the way