Pilar Pacheco (I) interviews CSUCI Student Jennifer Ormond (II) about her visit to New Orleans.

Download MP3 of the interview [4.64MB, running time 6:45]

I: So I’m here today with Jennifer Ormond who participated in spring break in Professor Sean Anderson’s University 392 Service Learning in New Orleans. And Jennifer why don’t you give us a brief overview of the project that you participated in and the population that you worked with over spring break.

II: Well we went to the greater New Orleans area it wasn’t just the city of New Orleans. We spent some time in Plaquemines Parrish working with Woodland Trailer Park. It was a place that had extensive canopy damage to this natural forested area and the canopy damage actually allowed three invasive species to start to spring up. The park management did receive money from FEMA to restore this area but they had to first perform some type of impact survey and they didn’t have the money to do that so that’s where Cal State Channel Islands came in.

We were able to go and document the amount of invasive species last year and this year we were able to go and see how much more have since that time which once they had that they were able to present it to FEMA and receive the grant to restore this park area. We did that for three days. The other three days we were there we’d gone down Burris, Louisiana which is about an hour and a half south of New Orleans. This area was twenty feet underwater for three weeks and there’s not a single structure left standing there. Everybody is living in FEMA trailer parks. Everybody is trying to rebuild those that did return that is, I believe they said only about fifteen percent of the community has returned.

Last year they (CSUCI students) went down and worked on Pastor Mike’s house and he has a little community gathering hall for people to come, a parish type thing. This year he was pretty much complete with his house so we helped his neighbor out and his neighbors name was Helen. She was a pharmacist prior to Hurricane Katrina. Her home had the pharmacy at the front with her house in the back and just another example of complete devastation; she’s been living in a FEMA trailer park or a FEMA trailer behind her house for two and half years. What we were able to do there is some demo work we took down some brick siding, we moved a couple of steal tubs, fiber glass shower, four heating and air conditioning units, a lot of duct work we cleaned up a lot of debris around her home. I still felt as if we didn’t do enough but there was only so much that we could do with limited time and resources so we were able to help her a little bit.

I: So why did you choose to spend your spring break helping to rebuild that part of New Orleans? What attracted you to this project?

II: Primarily it was in the United States and I know not just as a University a lot of our government aid constantly goes to areas outside of the United States and there are a lot of areas here that need as much assistance if not more. New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama, all the costal that’s in the public view and that’s I mean that’s one of the reasons why we chose to go there it’s not the end of it. I mean you can look at Appalachian Mountains and the communities in there, but that’s why I wanted to go primarily to help here at home so.

I: What did you learn about the community that you served while you were down there?

II: A lot of people, their first impression of us that we were there just as tourists which I guess they get a lot you know people coming just to gawk at all the damage but once they, once we talked to them they found out why we were there their attitudes completely changed. They’re so grateful to have any type of assistance. There’s not a lot of government resources going to them so anybody that comes to help them out they’re just, overwhelming gratitude. It was amazing. So for a community that’s still struggling they are not entirely on their feet. Going there I expected to see a little bit of damage, but I expected to see more of a re-building effort and that’s not really the case. Two and a half years later there’s still a lot of people that are living in sheer poverty. The magnitude it’s, it’s not something you see here.

I: What did you learn about yourself while you were down there? And what was one of the most important lessons that you learned?

II: For myself I learned that things really aren’t that bad, you know when you go to a place like New Orleans and like the greater New Orleans area where people are it’s like I said poverty, it’s not you know I freak out when my transmission goes in my car but these people lost everything they own. The real driving force is when we were working on Helen’s house and you would find pieces of her life like a broken Christmas ornament or you know and it’s you don’t think about that living day to day here and that’s what I brought home with it that you know I’m really grateful for what I do have, it may not be much but its certainly a lot more then a lot of people here.

I: So you feel as though this project impacted yourself personally, but do you also feel as though what you did down there impacted the community?

II: I think it, I think it did. I think like I said their gratitude expressed how much you know they really needed us there. They said they usually only get people over spring break and sometimes in the summer and the rest of the year they are left to fend for themselves so I think just us being there even for the week that we were was a huge help to the community, so.

I: Do you think that you would take, go back down there in the future possibly?

II: Yea. Yea I have two kids so it’s kind of hard for me to just pick up and go but I do want to return, maybe sometime over the summer take a week or so and go down there and just help where I can. A lot of the aide has gone to the city of New Orleans, but this was 400 square miles damage so there are so many communities out there that don’t see anybody except for the locals who’ll come down and give a weekend to pick up trash or something you know. So, I think if I do go down it will be in areas outside of the actual city.

I: Well thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us today.

II You’re welcome.