New Orleans native heads home for service

Spring break, a time when a college student packs his or her bags, attempts to find their bathing suit, sunscreen and hardhat.

Yes, that’s correct – hardhat. For the members of the Outdoors Club at Temple, getting ready for spring break includes packing rubber gloves, safety goggles, Tyvek suits, garage bags and respirators. The fantastical destination that will take the Outdoors Club 19 hours south of Philadelphia? New Orleans.

Sophomore Peter Seltzer grew up in New Orleans and is a member of the Outdoor Club.

Seltzer, who relocated to Temple from the University of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said he always planned to return home during spring break to volunteer.

As an active member of the Outdoors Club, Seltzer pitched the idea to his fellow members as a way for the club to complete its community service requirement for Temple Student Government.

“The thought at first was for the community service aspect, but then we thought, lets go for it,” Seltzer said. “And it just sort of took off.”

The trip, now dubbed “NOLA ’06” short for New Orleans, Louisiana, has grown to 16 students and two administrators, who will make the 19-hour drive down to New Orleans on March 4 to join Common Ground Collective.

The non-profit organization is one of many that is hosting college spring breakers who want to make a difference in the Lower 9th Ward, a part of New Orleans hit heavy by Hurricane Katrina and where Common Ground Collective is based. All 16 students attending are members of the Outdoors Club.

“We opened the opportunity to the [members of the] Outdoors Club first, and we filled every spot,” Seltzer said. “The administrators contacted us after they heard what we were doing. It was easy to find people to get involved.”

And involved they will be.

“Everyone wants to just hand out water, and that’s not what needs to be done. Gutting houses needs to be done,” Setlzer said, referring not to his group, but to people in general who think volunteering in New Orleans is all about handing out water and supplies.

After gutting houses in the Lower 9th Ward, the group will drive down to Pearlington, Miss.

“We’re going to be working at pulling debris out of the swamps that were put there by the hurricane,” Seltzer said. The same swamp paths they will be clearing are the ones Seltzer helped build last summer, before the hurricane threw everything from boats to refrigerators onto them.

The group met at the Student Center on Tuesday night to discuss what needed to be done before they leave on Friday, and to answer questions of where exactly the group will sleep.

“We’re going to be in a gutted house with wood floors, but they have a fireplace in case it gets cold,” Seltzer said to his fellow spring breakers in reference to why a sleeping bag was important.

Group members will also need to bring waterproof boots, food, pillows and cell phone chargers. Each member of the group has already raised $45 each, and Seltzer challenged them at Tuesday’s meeting to raise another $50 before the group heads down to New Orleans.

“Of course I am excited,” said Jason Heffren, president of the Outdoors Club and an environmental science and geology major. He’s not the only one.

“I’ve wanted to go since it happened, but didn’t get it together,” junior Chelsea Heck said. “I’m an environmental studies major and it was a huge environment disaster.”

“I decided over spring break to go make a difference,” said Paul Mencel, a sophomore mechanical engineering major. “But I’ll probably be using my landscaping and wood-scaping skills a lot more than my mechanical engineering [skills over spring break].”

Jenna Grasely, a junior finance major who just returned from studying at Temple Rome, is eager to go to New Orleans to see for herself the disaster that happened while she was abroad.

“It was hard to know exactly what was going on,” Grasely said, alluding to the international press.

“The Italian news misconstrued a lot of what was happening in New Orleans. All I knew was that there was a hurricane,” she said. “I had seen online pictures, but I didn’t know anyone in New Orleans, seeing Peter’s pictures made me comprehend the severity of it. I knew it was bad, but it was hard to know the extent.”

While the main focus is the service aspect, “We’re going to experience the culture of the city,” Seltzer said. The group will work long days, but spend nights sightseeing the areas of New Orleans, with various dinner locations throughout the city, including the famous Bourbon Street, and see a performance of the Rebirth Brass Band.

The trip is being sponsored financially by several organizations at Temple. The group is driving down in vans donated by the Temple Housing department that is also covering the cost of gas.

Money, supplies and support have been donated by many groups on campus, but the group members themselves have also fund-raised to support the trip.

To help support NOLA ’06 contact Peter Seltzer at pseltzer@temple.edu.

Ellen Fleming can be reached at efleming@temple.edu.

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