Learning experience in New Orleans, Louisiana

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By Matt Olson

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged parts of the Gulf Coast, including the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. For many, homes were lost, and their way of life changed forever. The time spent rebuilding would be measured not in weeks or months, but in decades. This has sparked the Louisiana Community Service mini-term at Union, now led by Professor of Sociology Janet Grigsby.

The mini-term began in December 2005, just three months after the devastating effects of the Atlantic Tropical Season. Although Grigsby was not a part of the trip, she helped develop the course that would begin in December 2007.

Grigsby indicated that there is still a monumental amount of work to be done in the wetlands of Louisiana, especially in an area known to locals as Dulac.

“Students spend a week in New Orleans, helping rebuild not only the physical infrastructure, but also the social infrastructure of the area, especially for children,” Grisby said.

For many families, the loss of personal memories is just as devastating as the physical loss of their home.

As for Dulac, many people outside of the region do not know what it is. Dulac is the wetlands of extreme southern Louisiana, where many of the residents make a living as “fisherfolk and oil transporters.” In addition to Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 was an “unbelievable blow” to the people of Dulac.

Students on the mini-term help rebuild the wetlands. Grigsby said, to put it in perspective, that “from 1932-2000, the wetlands have lost an area equivalent to the size of Delaware.” The wetlands are simply disappearing.

Grigsby also said that residents of the areas they help are extremely appreciative. For many of the individuals in the poverty-stricken portions of the wetlands, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would not give them relief money because “their houses were in too poor of shape before the storm destroyed them.”

The application form for the 2012 mini-term is due tomorrow, April 13.

Grigsby encourages all students to attend the mini-term.

“It’s a great learning experience, and it lets students help communities. This trip is more than a course for education. It’s about empowering students to make a difference.”

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