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March 31, 2012

DWU crew rebuilds homes, lives on mission trip to New Orleans

By: Jennifer Jungwirth, The Daily Republic

Almost seven years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated southeastern Louisiana, but the destruction is still evident from the sight of boarded-up homes, abandoned businesses and needy residents. Thirty-one Dakota Wesleyan University students and staff spent four days helping repair and rebuild the lives of those who are still suffering from the effects of the hurricane, which struck in August 2005 and is considered one of the top five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history.

The group traveled to Louisiana March 10-17. For several Wesleyan students, the trip to New Orleans was their second.

“The first time I went there, I had a lot of trouble leaving,” said Sam Sandau, a DWU sophomore from Tripp. “There was so much left to be done.” She first helped in New Orleans through her church in 2009, when she read to children in the city.

Sophomore Val Hummel, of Yankton, worked on homes in New Orleans three years ago, similar to the work she completed on this most recent trip.

“When I was there the first time it was a shock, but seeing some of the same stuff still untouched is heartbreaking,” Hummel said. Sandau and Hummel, along with their fellow missionaries, spent the four days working on three homes.

“I really felt I had done more this time around,” Sandau said. “I felt like we made a difference and touched more individual people this time.”

“I was surprised,” said sophomore Skyler Eriksen, of Presho, about the amount of work still needed to be done in Louisiana. “There’s a lot of appreciative people out there.”

Wesleyan campus minister Brandon Vetter said he noticed how hardworking the volunteers were during the four days. The students avoided downtown, he said, and one group almost ran out of work before the end of the trip.

“They were excited to be working,” Vetter said. “You just couldn’t get that Midwest work ethic out of them.”

During the demolishing, hammering and painting, Vetter, along with the students, noticed one common characteristic among the people being helped: they were all thankful. From the homeowners to businesspeople and the passersby on the streets, the group received warm welcomes and gracious words of thanks each day.

Hummel said one homeowner had waited six years to have a home rebuilt. “They’ve all seen how they’ve been changed and how God used them,” he said.

Hummel mentioned the group was able to meet many of the homeowners. “It makes me feel more comfortable knowing who I’m doing work for. It’s good to hear their stories and to learn more about what you’re working for,” she said.

There were challenges on the trip, and patience was key. But even though there were some trials and errors, the mistakes turned into positive experiences.

“We were painting and everyone kept saying it looked so bad — we were painting the trim blue and the house white. The homeowner stopped and patiently and calmly said we were painting the house backward,” Sandau said.

“All you could really do was laugh.” With a positive experience, many hope to continue their missionary services.

Eriksen, an education major, said he wants to aim his work more toward children. “Whether it be helping in schools or a church, I’d like to work with kids,” he said.

In addition to helping others, the students went on a swamp tour, a tour of the famous French Quarter and experienced southern cuisine.

“There’s just so much history from the Louisiana culture just by eating a certain dish and walking across town,” Sandau said.

Wesleyan attempts to provide services on one mission trip a year. Last year, a group of around 30 students spent time in Peru.

This year, students traveling to New Orleans began raising money in late fall through organizing and leading worship services in Mitchell and other communities. Vetter said the group raised $14,000 for the trip.

Ask the students, and they’ll tell you the hard work paid off. “We all came from different backgrounds, different studies,” Eriksen said. “We really came together as a group. I looked around and saw 31 different people with 31 different personalities working together and getting a job done.

 
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