Many people have been surprised that we continue to go back to New Orleans almost ten years after Hurricane Katrina. While over the years this project has become less of a hurricane recovery effort and more of a revitalization and arts outreach effort, we still get asked, "Is there still a need to re-build in New Orleans? Is it still bad?" The answer is yes. Throughout the 7th and 8th wards, there are still rows of homes that have not been worked on or lived in since Katrina. A house on the street we were working on with Habitat for Humanity still had the notation from search and recovery on the front door. There were weeds growing out of the chimney.
18 students and two staff advisors travel down to New Orleans for one week and do whatever they can to help a community in whatever way they can. To some it doesn't make sense to return to New Orleans 9 1/2 years later; they think our efforts don't mean much. But they do. They mean quite a lot. To have students willing to give up part of their spring break to go to New Orleans to help build safe, affordable homes for hard working, low-income families demonstrates that there are generous young adults with good hearts and values despite some of the terrible things we are seeing in the news today.
This past week (and over the last nine years) I have been privileged to see wonderful young adults perform kind, considerate, and generous acts through this annual project, planned and unplanned. Early on in our trip this past week, the actors of the team were rehearsing on the balcony when an 87 year old woman walking on the street called out for help. Without hesitation the four students immediately went to her aid, called 911, and stayed with her until the paramedics arrived. Later in the week, while in traffic and after a long day of house building and teaching, the team saw a man struggling to push his car (which broke down in traffic) up an incline into a parking lot and out of traffic. The team asked me to pullover the van. I had barely gotten the car into park when they jumped out, helped the man move his car, and jumped back in the van. I was so filled with pride over both of these incidents. These students acted with only the thought of helping others. As an administrator at an institution of higher education, one can't ask for more than that.
This team was the epitome of flexibility. They worked through a delayed flight, a 30 degree temperature drop, van keys locked in the van (oops), the concrete truck taking the porch off one house, and strong winds and cold rain at the Habitat site. The cold weather caused their outdoor performance to move inside, but they went with it. We were fortunate that the future homeowners were able to be at the performance. Before we left the Habitat site to head to our teaching site, I went to say good-bye to the homeowner. She thanked the team for blessing her new home in so many ways. That one sentence made all the Sunday morning meetings, the pleading for donations, the selling of raffle tickets, and driving a 15-passenger van around New Orleans all worth it.
I am really quite honored to have been able to advise and work with these students on this wonderful service project for nine years. I love watching the team develop over eight weeks and then completely bond in seven days over four minute showers, group cooking, teaching frustrations, my pre-caffeine morning monster, cold fingers, sore muscles, quotes of the day, and a lot of fun memories. I am in awe of their ability to perform in a diverse array of venues, to maintain their patience in challenging environments, and to be generous with the community (New York City and New Orleans) and with each other, not only as artists, but as human beings. The amazing thing is that they don't realize how much they are contributing to the arts or how much they are affecting change. They remain humble and continue to give of themselves.
Thank you to all the families, friends, and supporters who provided me with this honor and privilege to see Juilliard students at their best. Your support of this project and these students make a difference in this world.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs
P.S. I am also in awe of their cooking skills, especially with a limited budget, minimal cookware, and appliances that don't always work. Despite these challenges, these students know how to make a good meal!