Habitat for Humanity breaks new ground in Slidell

Laura Welch

What if you lost everything but your life? For hundreds of thousands in Louisiana, this scenario was their reality. And they were the lucky ones. This spring break, over 190 Villanova students went to Slidell, La. in an effort to ease the pain many families have experienced during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The students went with Habitat for Humanity’s break program, which sends Villanova students around the country to build houses that will be sold to families in need with an affordable mortgage and no profit made. The practice of Villanova students spending their time off to help others is not unusual. However, the Habitat for Humanity program this spring break was like no other previous service break experience at Villanova.In years past, several small groups of students were sent to various Habitat locations. Yet the immensity of the Katrina disaster called for extraordinary measures. In the spirit of the Villanova community, students and grad students alike joined forces to help reach Habitat for Humanity’s goal of 100 houses throughout the affected Gulf Coast area in just one year. Although the storm took place over a year and half ago, the area looks like the storm hit mere days ago. In the areas affected most, entire neighborhoods were completely ruined. The damage is unfathomable while help from outside sources is waning. The large-scale Habitat trip was one way Villanova is recognizing the reality of the situation and the overwhelming need to be persistent in assisting the Gulf Coast region. Each morning, all 190 Villanova volunteers met in “morning circle” at 7:50 a.m. sharp. There, the volunteers gathered to reflect upon the task for the day through morning devotion. Volunteers were reminded that every nail hammered, every piece of wood cut, every shingle installed, brings a displaced family one step closer to having a home. Among those displaced by Hurricane Katrina was the Johnson family. While Angel Johnson and her three young children evacuated before the hurricane, Angel’s home was destroyed in the flooding. For several weeks, she stayed with family in Texas until she thought it was safe to go back to her home in Louisiana. She was devastated to find her house in utter disarray. It seemed getting a FEMA trailer was her only option, but the trailer took months to arrive and was not particularly accommodating to her family’s needs. According to Angel, there was not even room for her 2-year-old son’s crib. To make matters worse, the mayor of Slidell was calling for all FEMA trailers to be removed by the end of March at the latest. When Angel was accepted to the Habitat for Humanity program in February, she and her family felt truly blessed. “Only three more months ’til the house is done,” Angel told the Villanova volunteers working on her house. “My kids are so excited.” Angel eagerly showed pictures of her three young children to workers on the site and happily described how she recommended the Habitat for Humanity program to her best friend, who will be moving into the lot next to Angel’s home. Angel’s story of loss and frustration is similar to many in the Gulf Coast region, yet unfortunately, most of these victims still need help to get back on their feet. For each home destroyed, every life lost, an entire family is devastated. The aftermath of one of the worst storms to ever hit the United States is nowhere near over. The eerie sight of the downtrodden ghost towns will truly haunt the regions for decades to come. Last week’s efforts displayed Villanova’s commitment to serving those in need. Not only did close to 200 volunteers help build homes in Louisiana, but many other students also traveled around the world on mission trips to impoverished areas. Mission trip service sites included Tijuana, Costa Rica, Peru, Guatemala, the Bronx and Chicago. Through the work of Habitat for Humanity, spring break service trips and many other forms of community service, Villanova plans to continue to help those in need across the globe.