Hurricane Katrina is the deadliest natural disaster to hit New Orleans. It affected the entire Gulf Coast, but the city took the brunt of the storm that reached Category 5 status in August 2005; many neighborhoods are still going through the recovery process.
Four years ago, Chase Tushaus was a high school senior and football player in Arizona. He couldn’t begin to comprehend what had happened. “That Friday we had a big football game against a cross-town rival,” he recalls. “I don’t think I could have even told you it was hurricane season, let alone know that massive destruction and flooding was occurring in New Orleans. I was just too wrapped up in my own world.”
Tushaus is no longer that person. He chose industrial and systems engineering over playing football when he came to USD, and will graduate this year with a dual BA/BS degree. He’s spending his spring break doing anything but relaxing. He and 11 other undergraduate students and two advisors are in New Orleans — Tushaus’ second trip there in just over a year — with the goal of making a difference.
“There is shockingly so much to do over there, even though Hurricane Katrina hit more than four years ago. I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and start doing some serious work,” he said.
Tushaus and senior sociology major Kelsey Johnson (pictured, front) are student leaders for USD’s inaugural New Orleans Service Immersion trip, run through the Center for Community Service-Learning (CSL) and its Center for Awareness, Service and Action. Last spring, CSL associate director Chris Nayve and CSL program director Brenna Hughes brought Tushaus and Johnson with them to New Orleans “to develop partnerships and get a sense of what type of social issues were present in their community that we could help address in our time there this year,” Hughes said.
On the suggestion of Barbara Quinn, RSCJ, director of USD’s Center for Christian Spirituality, this year’s group is staying at the Duchesne House, run by three RSCJ nuns, and working with Rebuilding Together: New Orleans.
“This immersion experience is an opportunity for students to immerse themselves into the culture, history and reality of New Orleans,” Hughes said. “We will be rebuilding homes affected by Hurricane Katrina, but service is a tool in these experiences, whereas relationships are the means. Students will meet community members, leaders, educators and doctors who will share their Katrina story, but will also share their whole story, which promises to be an educational and transformational experience.”
The students’ connection to New Orleans was in place long before they boarded an airplane on March 6. Potential participants had to present their own Hurricane Katrina reflection. Once selected, the students committed two workdays to the business school’s SEED Project — helping remodel a local community member’s home — to gain some practical experience. A letter-writing campaign to family and friends and a bake sale on Fat Tuesday raised money for their trip. Hughes said more fundraising will occur after the trip so students can make a donation back to an organization they’ll choose while in New Orleans.
Tushaus said his New Orleans experience is already shaping his post-USD plans.
“It opens my eyes to the service that needs to be done in our own community,” he said. “Coming back after our trip last year I knew once I graduated from USD I’d love to go back and put my engineering degree to use. I’ve recently looked into doing Teach for America in New Orleans and I know that when I step off the plane on March 13 I’ll be ready to sign up.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Service Immersion group’s blog.