Christmas clean-up in New Orleans

When Jessica Aleman announced she was returning to New Orleans for Christmas, she expected her family to be supportive, but she never anticipated they would actually join her. Earlier this winter season, during reading break, the second-year Trinity Western University student was part of a group of 39 TWU students and staff who went to New Orleans to help with the ongoing Hurricane Katrina clean-up efforts. The experience had such a profound impact on the 19-year old that, not only did she insist on returning right away, but her family was inspired to give up their Christmas holiday and join her efforts.

“The media is no longer focused on New Orleans but the situation remains the same,” says Mark Pernosky, the third-year geography student who initiated the trip to Louisiana back in September. “A hundred and fifty-five thousand houses are uninhabitable, displacing families all over the United States. People have lost their homes, their livelihoods and their memories. It's absolutely devastating.”

Many of the houses have not been touched since the flood waters receded and many are still in quarantine as a result of toxic mould. In order for the mould-damaged houses to be habitable again, they must be “gutted” down to the basic frame. This means removing all the possessions from inside the house and tearing out all the crown mouldings, flooring, ceiling and drywall. The estimated cost for this type of job is $10,000—far beyond what many residents could afford.

Working under the direction of Samaritan's Purse and a local church in the devastated area, the TWU teams were able to fully gut six houses—and at no cost to the owners. In fact, the teams fundraised and pitched in their own money in order to go.

“When we returned to Canada,” explains Aleman, “there was no question of if we would go back; it was only a matter of when.” Aleman says she immediately made plans to return to Louisiana by herself over the Christmas Break. However, when her mother found out about the idea, she was interested as well, and soon Aleman's father and two siblings decided they would also go.

The Aleman family will spend a whirlwind Christmas Day with their relatives in Alberta and then immediately leave for Gretna, Louisiana on Dec. 28, returning Jan. 4. Working with Samaritan's Purse, the family—along with Langley's Cathy Chapplow, Emily Rains and Mark Stinton, members of Aleman's original TWU team—will spend their trip stripping out the interior of flood-ridden houses.

Through this experience, Aleman has become deeply committed to the rebuilding effort and the possibilities that such work affords to those still deeply affected by the hurricane's devastation. With a political studies degree in process, Aleman says the trip has given her more clarity and direction. “Being at TWU has changed my mindset on what I have and it's opened my eyes to more than just me and my life,” says Aleman, who hopes to work with a non-governmental organization like Samaritan's Purse after graduation. “Trinity Western changed my overall worldview and that's encouraged me to want to do something to serve others.”

Aleman and her original TWU team are making plans to return to Louisiana over Spring Break.

Last Updated: 2007-10-11
Author: Erin Mussolum