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To New Orleans with love
Photos and Story by James Hill
Lisa Fountain has volunteered her time to such organizations as the Oregon Food Bank and Portland Habitat for Humanity. But this was different.
Fountain, 25, a psychology student set to start her second year at PCC, traveled with 17 peers to help clean up the Upper and Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The group stayed at a school with other volunteers and displaced residents. While there they cleaned up Jackson Square Park, which sits amid abandoned homes and destroyed neighborhoods.
"It took seven hours to clean the park," Fountain said. "When we got done a little girl came over and used the swing. The hardest part was leaving and knowing there was still so much to do. We accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot to do there. If I get another opportunity I’ll go."
The PCC group was part of an organization called Common Ground Collective Relief. The students were flown to New Orleans for free by Southwest Airlines. After an orientation by Common Ground Relief staff, they embarked on their week of rebuilding.
In that week, they gutted an entire house, attic and backyard (including a swimming pool); delivered hundreds of meals to volunteers; prepared a community center for use; worked at a distribution center to give out food and clothing to those in need; and helped clean the park, which included weeding, mowing and planting flowers and trees.
The entire experience made an impact on Fountain.
"I was really surprised," said Fountain, who also serves as a senator in student government. "I was wondering what was taking so long to clean everything up. Where was everybody at? But the people who were there were very friendly. They showed us much appreciation."
In the evenings, students applied what they learned to leadership development principles. They learned about organizing, problem solving, conflict resolution, serving others, diversity and racism, team work and other life skills.
"It was such a rewarding experience that they want to go again and all feel grateful for the opportunity to participate," said Cami Bishop, student leadership coordinator at Sylvania Campus. "The home owners, neighbors and businesses continually expressed their thanks for the time and energy these dedicated students gave to the relief effort."
The students even had the chance to visit NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to learn about rocket testing, NASA programs and research as it applies to everyday life. But Fountain says she and her peers learned far more valuable lessons.
"The best part of this trip was helping people out," she said. "This devastation brought people together from all over the country. I learned to appreciate what I have and to help others."