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Students spend spring break helping hurricane survivors

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Virginia Tech students gut the interior of a home during their spring break.
March 27, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NEW ORLEANS (UMNS) — At Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Franklin’s house, about 16 students from Virginia Tech University are tearing out walls, knocking down ceilings and pulling up carpet.

The Franklins’ son, E. Dwight Franklin, couldn’t be happier.

“My parents lived here for almost 30 years,” he says. On the outside edges of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, the Franklins’ home was one of many left mired in mud and mold six months after Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast.

Several of the volunteer groups coming through the state in March are college and high school students on their spring breaks.

Now that the students are working on the house, Franklin says he is beginning to see some hope. “A month or so ago, I didn’t see any hope. It is such a blessing to have them here.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

E. Dwight Franklin watches as students work on his parents' home.

The Franklin family is spread out from Lake Charles, La., to Texas, he says. “My mom has been back, but my dad hasn’t seen the house yet.” He says in addition to his parents’ house, his own house was flooded as well as his grandparents’ house.

Ivy Gorman, team leader for the Virginia Tech students, stopped long enough to catch her breath after dumping another wheelbarrow load of debris on the pile outside the house.

“We are cleaning up the mess, pulling up carpet, taking out the kitchen sink, the toilets,” she says. When asked why she would give up a chance to be relaxing on a beach somewhere for this backbreaking work, she says simply, “People need help.”

Franklin watches the students haul out load after load. “Just look at all this stuff,” he says. “My mom was a stuff person.”

Help is ?a blessing’

In another part of town, more students from Virginia Tech are helping Rita Taylor clear out her house.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Rita Taylor says students helping her are "a blessing."

“I love it,” she says of the help. “I didn’t have enough money to pay someone to come in and do this, it is a blessing.”

Taylor says this was her first home and the storm took its toll on her. “I lost everything,” she says. “I am going to clean it out and lock it up and wait and see what happens during the next hurricane season.”

Joshua Plitt, a senior mechanical engineering student, explains why he came on this trip: “The Bible directs us to help the poor and oppressed.”

After a pause, he adds, “I am doing it to glorify God.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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