38 Hands, 19 Hearts and Plenty of Sweat

38 Hands, 19 Hearts and Plenty of Sweat

“New Orleans was the exact opposite of what it used to be before the storm,” says Saint Mary's College junior Katie Cosimano, who knew the pre-Katrina city well. She's been visiting her grandparents there since she was born.

Recently back from a rebuilding trip in Louisiana, Katie now knows the post-Katrina city well, too. The contrast was startling. “Instead of streets filled with music and people, it was eerily quiet and empty. It was sad. There is still so much suffering,” she says.

Hope came in the form of 16 students—including Katie—and three professors from Saint Mary's. They all volunteered to spend their fall break working on Habitat for Humanity homes in Slidell, just 20 miles outside of New Orleans.

“As a social work major, helping others is a priority for me,” says Katie. But her motivation for going went beyond that. “During Hurricane Katrina, I watched my mother sit in front of the television trying to figure out where her parents were and if they were even alive. It wasn't until three days after Katrina ended that we found my grandparents in Houston. It hit home for me. This trip was an opportunity for me to make a contribution to the rebuilding of the Louisiana coast.”

Katie and the other Saint Mary's volunteers installed floors, kitchen cabinets, doors, and even learned to do some electrical work. “We didn't want to get in the van to go back home,” says Katie. “We saw that we were making a difference, and wanted to continue helping.”

Leaving was hard, but they did get back in the van, and Katie has resumed her classes on campus. She brought the experience with her, and has shared it with her peers and other professors. “In my social work policy class, we're discussing ways in which we can be advocates for people suffering from the effects of a natural disaster,” says Katie. “We're problem-solving, because these issues of homelessness, displacement, and illness resulting from Katrina are not hypothetical issues. They're real, and we need to do our part to be ready in case it happens again.”