FARMINGTON — When 20 University of Maine at Farmington students arrive in New Orleans this weekend they’ll be learning new skills, such as installing insulation and laying Sheetrock.
They will also be helping others who are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“The biggest thing along with helping … there’s an awesome need in the area … is to get the brain thinking how to be of service and help others. Where, every day, can we recognize and help those hurting and struggling,” said Jacob Marcoux, a UMF senior and student leader of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
For this InterVarsity project, the students will team up with those from other Maine colleges on their trip from Feb. 15 to 24. They’ll work with Habitat for Humanity and other local charitable organizations.
This is the third trip to New Orleans for Marcoux, who is from Burnham. Last year, nearly 40 students spent the week doing a variety of construction projects, including painting, demolition, insulating and installing Sheetrock.
“It’s cool to learn new skills,” he said.
Some areas around the city were hit hard by the hurricane. They are still clearing sections, he said. Some schools closed and have never recovered. Some neighborhoods that had been filled with homes are completely cleared now.
Many homes are boarded up, and not habitable. Some are marked with signs showing a death occurred there. An “X” painted on the home with numbers in the quadrants indicates certain things, Marcoux said.
There aren’t as many people now, many have moved away. A lot of the work takes place in the poorer sections of the city, like the 9th Ward where he’s worked before. Many are still hurting. It’s not what we think, he said.
“It hits home when you see it. We want to rise to the occasion and help out. We are blessed in the United States and are compelled to use those blessings to care for the needs of others,” he said.
The group won’t know for sure what they’ll be doing until they get there.
This year there’s a new batch of students going, some Christian, some not, he said.
The group works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and spends evenings in group discussions of topics such as Christianity versus social justice.
With a mixture of Christian and non-Christians, it makes for a good conversation, Marcoux said.
One evening, they’ll venture into the city for dinner. Last year, they saw some Mardi Gras parades.
The Gentilly Baptist Church in a New Orleans suburb sets up a place for students to stay over a six week period. Students from around the country come during their spring break to work and help.
The church cooks for the group, but the students buy their food.
As a group, they need to raise $11,500, or $575 per person, to help pay for transportation, food and fees charged by Habitat for Humanity to support the projects.
So far, the group has raised about $6,000.
This trip is the big thing they work for, although the group is striving to be more service-based. There’s a desire to do more, he said.
It’s never too late to help out, Marcoux said. Anyone willing to help the group help the people of New Orleans can call him at 487-1197.