“I’m helping to rebuild New Orleans with my own hands.”
In 2006, Professor Bobbi Rosenquest asked students in one of her classes to read a Children's Defense Fund report on the state of children ten months after Hurricane Katrina." It was such a disturbing report, we were all moved to take action," she remembers.
With the students' help, Professor Rosenquest developed a course that culminates in a week of volunteer service in New Orleans. She leads groups of up to 30 students on service trips to the region every January and May. One trip also included alumni and Wheelock president Jackie Jenkins-Scott on the work teams.
Students live at a volunteer camp and work at sites rebuilding homes, often side-by-side with families who lost everything in the hurricane. Students remove mold, put up drywall, paint, and install flooring, among other tasks.
The students also meet with professionals who work directly with children and families in the region. "Students have talked with and learned from teachers, ministers, the chief justice of the Juvenile Court System, and Renee Assetta Guilbeau '94, an alumna who runs the Child Life program at Tulane Children's Hospital," says Professor Rosenquest.
Repeat participants can apply to be student leaders who co-teach the course with Professor Rosenquest or oversee work at the recovery sites.
Laura Serao '12 calls the course "a life-changing experience." Three-time participant and student leader Peter Bartmon '10 agrees. "It was both emotional and rewarding to work side-by-side with families who had lost everything. The experience made me appreciate the little things, like running water and a roof over my head."
Service learning is a natural extension of Wheelock's mission to improve the lives of children and families. Wheelock has made a ten-year commitment to serving in New Orleans. In addition, students can also participate in service learning trips to Oaxaca, Mexico, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Ghana and Benin in West Africa.