Last November, a representative from the Graduate Association of Public Policy Students (GAPPS) at the University of Connecticut (UConn) approached Hands On Hartford about a service project collaboration in New Orleans. Every year since 2007, GAPPS has organized students to travel to New Orleans to assist with the rebuilding efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the New Orleans area. In an attempt to diversify its volunteer base in 2011, GAPPS thought it important to partner with a local non-profit and to involve Hartford residents in the endeavor.
During the week of May 15th, 2 UConn faculty advisors, 4 Hands On Hartford staff (including 3 AmeriCorps) and 20 Public Policy graduate students from UConn traveled to New Orleans for one week to help restore and rebuild homes. The volunteers used a bunkhouse, owned by another affiliate of the Hands On Network – Hands On New Orleans, as their base. While in New Orleans, the volunteers worked closely with an organization called lowernine.org. Lowernine.org is dedicated to training residents and volunteers in the Lower Ninth Ward with the necessary skills to restore homes and inevitably change lives. Lowernine.org connects volunteers with homeowners who have the necessary building/restoration materials , however, lack funds for labor.
The GAPPS group along with Hands On Hartford painted the exterior of homes, gutted and assisted with mold remediation, installed new roofing, cleared lots and worked in a community garden. In addition to helping restore homes, the volunteers had opportunities to connect with homeowners and to listen to their moving stories. The service trip was a great opportunity for the Hands On Hartford staff that primarily serves Hartford to expand their service scope.
When asked for some highlights of the experience, AmeriCorps Kate Stritzinger responded, “I enjoyed connecting with UConn grad students, seeing their perspective and showing them my perspective as an AmeriCorps member serving in a city that many of them grew up near, but don’t feel particularly connected to….Also, I really liked seeing the local farming movements that are revitalizing the job market in the area and increasing food accessibility.” AmeriCorps member Krys Carter highlights included seeing the Brad Pitt Houses (part of the Make It Right Program intended to build sustainable, formidable homes in the Lower Ninth Ward), learning wood finish work, visiting the levees and running into Spike Lee.
Hands On Hartford was able to participate in this initiative thanks to the incredible fundraising efforts of the GAPPS group. GAPPS raised nearly $15,000 which enabled our staff to participate in this endeavor free of cost. Hands On Hartford looks forward to partnering with GAPPS annually on this important initiative that restores community, faith and changes lives in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Hands On Hartford Community Engagement Program Manager