March 06, 2009

Case Western Reserve Students Contribute to Rebuilding Efforts in New Orleans


Have survivors of Hurricane Katrina been forgotten?

Not by 20 students from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Weatherhead School of Management, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations. They plan to pick up hammers and nails—and a few shovels and hoes—over spring break, March 8-15, when they return to New Orleans to continue efforts to rebuild the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The students will volunteer for New Orleans City Park.

"We are thrilled to have their help," said Jim Morrison, who oversees the volunteer help at the park.

Some 20,000 volunteers have contributed to the park's comeback. It is slowly recovering and volunteer help has moved clean-up beyond removing trees and debris into the stage where repairs to damaged buildings is undertaken and maintain areas where invasive plant species have overtaken areas where native trees once grew.

Located on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, the park was destroyed during the storm, leaving over 90 percent of the park's 1,300 acres under more than five feet of water for days and causing an estimated $43 million in damages. The group plans to aid in the reconstruction of buildings that were damaged by the storm, planting vegetation along the park's 22 miles of shoreline to prevent erosion, and other tasks to restore the park.

According to Morrison, the park's restoration efforts have been hailed as one of the "great success" stories in New Orleans.


The graduate students' community service began in 2006. Twenty-two law students spent their spring breaks concentrating on legal work and repairing homes devastated by the storm.

Since the legal infrastructure has mostly recovered, volunteers have redirected efforts to aid homeowners in the reconstruction of their properties. It's a new experience for some law students, who have never participated in construction or demolition.

Now in its fourth year, students have continued this mission. Chris Schmitt, a member of the Case Western Reserve University Student Bar Association, and his wife Melissa have organized these volunteer trips for the past two years and fundraising opportunities to defray travel expenses and transportation costs. The efforts have reduced the cost to $600 per person.

"You feel so connected to the people emotionally and to their experience that we now feel a sense of pride in making the city become what it once was. It is an emotional experience, and the hardest part is cleaning out the children's bedrooms. Most of the work involves completely gutting homes that still have toys, wedding albums, and one still had a milk shake that was made before the storm hit," said Schmitt.

An overview of what students have done over the years:

  • 2006—Legal assistance and disaster recovery work
  • 2007—Gutting several homes
  • 2008—Installing drywall and flooring in seven homes

One New Orleans charity recently declared the region "halfway home," indicating how much had been accomplished by volunteers and government agencies, but also how much work remains to be done.

Learn more about the service trip.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, March 6, 2009 01:12 PM | News Topics: Community Outreach, Mandel Center for Non-Profit Organizations, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, School of Law, Students, Weatherhead School of Management, news

Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.