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Bonner Scholars and staff return to New Orleans on fifth annual home-building journey

Bonner Scholars and staff return to New Orleans on fifth annual home-building journey

EWING, NJ … Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, there is still plenty of rebuilding to be done. Students and staff from The College of New Jersey’s Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement, who are headed to the city this week for the fifth year in a row, will be plunging into reconstruction efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward and other neighborhoods.

While the much-visited French Quarter has largely recovered, sections of the Lower Ninth Ward, which suffered most heavily in the catastrophic flooding, are still very much works in progress. Brittany Aydelotte, the Bonner coordinator organizing the trip, noted that there are few entirely rebuilt blocks in many still-battered sections of the sprawling ward. There are streets that once had hundreds of houses that now have between 20 and 30.

“Some neighborhoods are built up again, but some are completely empty,” Aydelotte said, noting that with so much work left to be done, efforts such as the Bonner Center’s remain essential. “This is a project I’m really proud that we’ve continued to do, because many people have forgotten about the storm and the lingering disaster it caused for residents. Five years later, so many are still unable to return.”

This year, a group of 30 Bonner Center employees and Bonner Community Scholars — many of them first-year students — will spend a week working with the New Orleans-based United Saints Recovery Project, a volunteer organization dedicated to assisting the elderly, disabled, and otherwise disadvantaged, in rehabilitating and rebuilding their homes, as well as engaging in community service, art, and beautification projects.

The volunteers will live in a dorm-style work camp in Central City from Jan. 8-15, and work on housing projects for stretches of six to eight hours. As on previous trips, they will work on demolition, setting foundations, putting up drywall, painting, tiling and roofing. Students will be assigned according to past experience and skills (some volunteers also work with TCNJ’s Habitat for Humanity chapter), while newcomers to construction will be placed in positions throughout the project.

“We do want the Bonner students to learn new skills from the construction coordinators,” said Aydelotte, a 2009 graduate who has traveled with the Bonner Center for the past four years and has also volunteered on her own.

The Bonner Center volunteers will record their experiences on a blog that will feature the impressions, as well as accounts of challenges and accomplishments, of both the staff and students who take part in the Center’s annual mission.

Until the recovery reaches still-devastated neighborhoods, the Bonner Center will continue to send volunteers to rebuild over the College’s winter semester break.

“Until the houses are back and the people are back, we’ll go,” she said.

Bonner Center NOLA 2011 blog

For more information about this trip or the Bonner Center, contact Brittany Aydelotte at