2012-01-26 / News

URI student will spend spring break building houses in New Orleans

Lauren McDonough hopes to help those families still homeless from Katrina

LAUREN MCDONOUGH LAUREN MCDONOUGH Hurricane Katrina may be slipping into history for most Americans who recall the 2005 disaster in New Orleans, but the impact of the storm is still being felt by many of the poor.

Over March vacation, some University of Rhode Island students – Jamestown’s Lauren Mc- Donough among them – will give up their spring break to help the hardest hit.

The students, members of the national InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, have signed up for a 22-plus hour bus ride from Kingston to Louisiana where they will join some other groups, such as AmeriCorps, in rebuilding houses for people still homeless 6.5 years after the storm. It’s not the most glamorous way to see New Orleans, but McDonough and her friends say it will be the trip of a lifetime.

McDonough, a URI freshman, said she’ll be working in neighborhoods about 30 minutes outside of New Orleans.

She said that the group will visit the surrounding areas, but the itinerary will give her group time to explore the city, too. McDonough acknowledged she’s a bit surprised so many people are still struggling after all the money donated to the hurricane victims.

“I’m very surprised there’s such a need for houses to be rebuilt,” she said.

The situation breaks down along lines of personal wealth. In most of the more affluent areas, she said, people have recovered from Katrina, but in the poor sections, families have lacked the funds to deal with house repairs.

McDonough knows what to expect when she arrives because one of her friends, Brooke White, made the trip last year.

White is returning to New Orleans with InterVarsity again this year.

“It was an amazing trip,” White said. Asked what she took away from the experience, she said the trip was a “wake-up call.” She could not believe people were still homeless years after Katrina.

“It was unimaginable,” she said. “Thousands of people there still don’t have their homes back.”

White worked on several houses during the five-day effort, and typically she did not meet any of the homeowners. But one family wanted to thank the volunteers and they dropped by while White’s group was at work. She was overwhelmed by their story and their reaction.

“The woman told us they’d been living in a tiny apartment with 10 people,” she said. White added that the family told her, “Every nail you pound in is bringing us one step closer to being in our home.” White said they wanted to go home in time for their 20th wedding anniversary.

Much work had already been completed, she said, but White helped rebuild the walls, which has been soaked and had to be removed. “We were putting up drywall,” she said. “We were literally building the house back up.”

That was her first day in Louisiana. “I was thrust right into it, and I learned I really want to spend my life serving other people.”

If she can’t find a job helping others, she’ll find another way to dedicate her free time to volunteering, she said.

McDonough said the trip also will give the students opportunity to discuss social injustice. They’ll consider examples they witness in New Orleans and social injustice relates to faith.

The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is non-denominational and welcomes people of all faiths.

Besides White, McDonough is also traveling with a Chi Omega sorority sister, Carolyn Burns, 19.

The students have to raise funds for the trip. Each student is responsible for $575. McDonough and Burns expect to come up with some capital by selling T-shirts to their sorority sisters. But people who want to donate can drop off a contribution at the Jamestown Press office, she said.

Lauren is a daughter of Kim and Jeff McDonough. She credits her father for teaching her some of the skills she’ll use to fix up the houses.

“I’m like daddy’s little girl,” she laughed, recalling how she and her father worked on soapbox derby cars together. She’s “completely comfortable” with a hammer and nails she said.

McDonough plans on majoring in biomedical engineering before going to medical school. She is considering both family medicine and a specialty in orthopedic surgery. She’d like to work with athletes because she likes the way they’re driven to return to their competitive form. She used to be a competitive skier herself before a knee injury.

“I like the athlete’s mentality of getting up and going out there again,” she said. “They have the drive to get back to what they were doing before. I’m also a very driven person. I think it would be cool to work with athletes.”

Before college, McDonough went to a boarding school in New Hampshire where she learned about mountain ski clinics. The ski resorts hire doctors to set bones, and that’s another job she’d like to consider.

“I’ve been injured countless times, but I can still ski,” she said. Although she still likes jumps and moguls, she’s not doing as much “hotdog” skiing as before.

“I’ll do moguls as long as my knees allow,” she said.

McDonough acknowledged this spring break doesn’t fit the stereotype of college students’ partying, but she’s OK with that. “I’m defi- nitely not the stereotypical college kid,” she said. “I like to be very busy. I feel good about myself when I have a lot going on.”

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