By Katelyn Gendron
WILBRAHAM – Heloise Dubois recalled walking down the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La., with a feeling of shock, struggling to believe she was still in the United States.
Surely, the Wilbraham resident thought, she must be in some developing nation; however, she came to the harsh realization that nine years after Hurricane Katrina, the city is still reeling from its effects. Dubois, a student at Providence College in Rhode Island, recently participated in the NOLA (New Orleans, La.) Immersion 2014 trip to help residents of the famed city return to prosperity.
“I had never been to New Orleans before and it was quite a culture shock when I arrived … On a typical street, only two out of six houses are inhabited while the other four are left deserted and ruined since the hurricane. The community suffered greatly from the hurricane but also from the lack of individuals to return to the parish. The lack of enough schools or even a fire station prove that the community still has much to rebuild,” she told Reminder Publications
Dubois, a previous volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in North Carolina, as well as a service mission to Mexico, is no stranger to this type of work, however, she admitted the experience with NOLA proved unique because of the scope of the efforts involved.
“One of the most interesting things about the NOLA trip was the diversity of service performed. Everyday we were doing a different project giving us a strong understanding of all the different needs of the community,” she explained. “We worked with Green Light New Orleans where we exchanged fluorescent light bulbs for energy efficient ones in homes around New Orleans for free. This enabled us to interact with a great amount of different individuals while also helping them to save money and improve the environment.
“We worked at the Harry Thompson Center, which is an outdoor homeless shelter that provides laundry, phone calls, showers, and a mailing address for those in need in New Orleans. We worked with the Lower Ninth Ward Village where we promoted the importance of political involvement so they could have a voice for their community.
“We worked with the St. Bernard Project for two days where we did more manual labor working on housing: one day we worked on clearing the backyard of an elderly man who was getting fined $500 a day; the other day we worked on finishing a house that was going to be sold to a family that had to evacuate the area during Hurricane Katrina and still had not returned to New Orleans,” she continued.
When asked if she’d recommend the NOLA Immersion trip to other students, Dubois replied, “Absolutely. Not only was the NOLA service trip an amazing learning experience, it gave me the opportunity to understand the predicaments of a community that has been hit with so many struggles yet still has the resilience to keep moving forward.”
Their resilience, she noted, gives her the strength to continue her volunteerism. “I hope to participate in many future service projects in my life. Providence College offers numerous different service projects on campus, in Providence, in the United States and even internationally. Though these trips can be competitive with the amount of interested students, I hope to be able to participate in an International Immersion this summer,” Dubois added.