YC Merit Scholars 'Rebuild' New Orleans

In early January (2011) a small group of York College students enjoyed a new experience as volunteer participants in a community service program in New Orleans.

The students were part of a group of students from sister CUNY Colleges, Hunter and Queens, and participated in the program as an “alternative winter break.” This was York’s first time participating in the program officially known as, “Rebuilding Together New Orleans” and their notes below help to tell the story of how they did their part to help re-build a city still suffering the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina.

Accompanying the York students, all of them Merit Scholars, was Mondell Sealy, director of Development and Alumni Affairs at York; and [York] music professor, Tom Zlabinger, who was already in the fabled city for a jazz conference when the York party arrived. The York group assisted their assigned homeowners with rebuilding their homes damaged during Katrina’s rampage five years ago. 

Rebuilding Together New Orleans (RTNO) is an organization, which utilizes volunteer labor and corporate donations to rebuild the homes of low-income, elderly and disabled residents free of charge. Qualifying homeowners must live in certain neighborhoods and must be either 60 or older and low-income; or disabled and low-income (any age), or a first-responder.

Here is an excerpt of the group’s blog:

Day 4 – (last day) January 14, 2011

Kyla-Gaye Pinnock, a junior majoring in Biotechnology: Last day of volunteering with Rebuilding Together. [We’ve] finished up fire blocking the house, for the most part. Although volunteering started out rough and cold, it still ended up cold but not so rough. We met the homeowners and they brought us Popeye’s [Chicken], which was awesome. Just the fact that they were there made me feel like I made a difference, no matter how small it might seem.

Tom Zlabinger, professor: Today was the warmest day in many ways. The sun warmed the house and yard. And having lunch with the family who owns the house just made the heart even warmer. The house dates back to the 1700s. And we also met the owner's granddaughter. So seeing the past and the future together as we concluded our work made it all make sense. In addition to working on the house, we all became stronger and better members of our separate teams. While we swept away pieces of wood, sawdust, and dirt, all I could think about how I was given more than I gave. Our four days are now part of a multi-generational house.

Jerome Ian Tabaosares, freshman majoring in Pharmaceutical Sciences: Day 4: Kirby, yes I did that ha-ha. Today was my last day working in the Saylor’s house.  I want to go back. We had Popeye’s chicken for lunch.  I met the whole Saylor family and they were happy to see us rebuilding.  The deck is almost done because the frame is up and the floor boards are being drilled in. The fire blocking was almost done but Luke cut off the power to the generator (only 3 boards left too) it’s all good. We had curry by Padi w00t.  And we saw a good old jazz show in Preservation Hall. Goodnight New Orleans.

Franny Jimenez, senior majoring in Social Work: It started off cold, as usual, but it warmed up during the day. The family bought us lunch, which was very sweet. I worked on the deck today, helping dig and cement and drill in the floor boards. I wish we could have finished the whole floor. It would have been nice to see. I feel like we made a difference here, even if it was very small. I have to say it was a great experience. Can't believe it was the last day of work, it all went by so fast. Hope other people get the opportunity to help others in the way we did this week. P.S. Bourbon Street is great!! LOL.

Amanda DeAbreu, freshman majoring in Chemistry: We almost finished the deck in the backyard today. Having lunch with the homeowner, daughter and granddaughter was fun! She appreciated us and thanked us countless times. When I heard the homeowner say to her granddaughter, "Thank them, they're building you a home," it made me feel great! I wish I could stay to help and see them walk into their new home. We had a lot of good times on the work site! By the way, Bourbon Street is amazing!

Renee Gilroy, sophomore majoring in Accounting: Today was a bitter-sweet last day of work. Although we did not complete our deck it was nice to see how nicely it was coming together. It was also nice to see a lot of the family who owned the house. When we met them they seemed to be very grateful for the progress on their house. In the evening I had a great time at Preservation Hall. The music was awesome!!! Despite the cold we all had a nice time walking Bourbon Street. Night.

Mondell Sealy, chaperone:  Last day on the website and last day for hot beverage run for lunch.  Meeting the homeowner, Bridgett Saylor, was so special. [We] met her daughter and granddaughter. She brought us Popeye's chicken with red beans and rice and biscuits for lunch (there went my New Year's diet!) Ms. Saylor was grateful for the work that we’ve done on her home.  I have her email and promised to send her our group photos.[I] do wish that we could have finished the deck; but [we] still had a great time sawing wood. Hope to make a return trip to New Orleans in the spring to see the finished house.  We went to Preservation Hall in the evening and heard some amazing Jazz. I think the students had a great time walking down Bourbon Street. After [the] show [we] took the students to Arnaud's Restaurant to visit the free Mardi Gras Museum located above the restaurant. [We] ran out of tea and hot chocolate, so [we] had to make another run to CVS.  Despite the cold, it was a GREAT four days volunteering. We're off to the Louisiana State Museum tomorrow morning to see the exhibit, ”Katrina and Beyond.”  Goodnight folks!

Vrajisha Patel, freshman majoring in the Physician Assistant program: On the last day at the site, we met homeowners and ate lunch they brought us. At the end of the day we went to Preservation Hall to listen traditional jazz music.

Inessa Yusupova, a sophomore majoring in Biology: After a long day at the site, “Team Deck” had managed to complete 1/3 of the deck. It was hard work, but so far, everything looks great. My only regret is that we were not able to finish the entire deck, though I realize that we did what we could. I hope that soon the family will be able move into their home and enjoy their time on that deck, making great memories. BTW the French Quarter, is crazy!! Cool, funky, and weird, all in the same vicinity. Also got to listen to classical jazz at Preservation Hall; loved the saxophone!!! Overall had an amazing time!!!

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