President Roderick J. McDavis

President Roderick J. McDavis thanks students for their work before they board the bus to New Orleans

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

McDavis chats with students

President McDavis chats with students before they leave for New Orleans

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

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New Orleans or Bust

Students hit the road to help the people of Louisiana

Ohio University student Michael Conte has wanted to make a difference from the moment he stepped foot on campus.

In part, this desire drove the student to become an resident assistant in Adams Hall, a high-rise dormitory on the Athens campus' South Green.

"Part of my job as an R.A. is supposed to focus on programs for the residents," Conte said. "One program I have always wanted to do is to put together a large group for volunteer work."

Conte, a senior theater performance major from Dayton, Ohio, was one of 50 conscientious OHIO students who left for New Orleans on Thursday afternoon to lend assistance to Hurricane Katrina victims and assist in the off-shore oil leak cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

The students raised more than $12,000 for travel expenses and lodging – enough that none of the students paid money out of pocket.

"No group of students this large has ever traveled to New Orleans for community service," Conte said. "We used a grassroots effort to raise $12,000 in less than a quarter. Determination brought us here. This trip will be a life changing experience for all of us."

While there, the group will be hosted by the New Orleans Missions House – the largest homeless shelter in the southern United States. The group will live in a barracks-style facility built post-Hurricane Katrina for college students and other volunteers who travel to the city to help relief efforts.

"We reached out to nearly every volunteer organization down there," he said. "They know there are 54 of us coming who are ready to dig in and help. We don't know what part – big or small – we will have in that, we're just very excited to be able to help out."

President Roderick J. McDavis took time away from his busy schedule to wish the students well on their journey and to thank them in advance for their efforts in New Orleans.

"I came here to tell you how proud we are of what you're doing," McDavis said. "This is what the meaning of community service and civic responsibility is all about. Going to help people you never met and don't know – that's really giving back."

Conte said he isn't certain how much they will be able to assist in the oil cleanup, but there is still work from the damage Hurricane Katrina wreaked in 2005.

"No civilians are allowed to actually touch the oil," he said. "And it's also still making its way there. I have friends there that say they can already smell it though. Most of the organizations in New Orleans are still mobilizing and aren't sure what to do until the oil
actually reaches the city."

Andrea Manning, residential coordinator in Adams Hall, is one of the four Residential Housing staff members who traveled with the students. She said the trip is very special to her.

"We've coordinated lots of trips, but this is the largest endeavor," Manning said. "This one is the most inspirational. It reminded me why I'm a professional in this field."

Associate Director of Residential Housing Judy Piercy, who came to Adams Hall to see the students off, said the trip is a sample of what motivation and passion can do.

"This trip grew from 15 to 54 people. I'm excited about what the students will learn from the residents of New Orleans during their stay," Piercy said.

Christine Sheets, executive director of Residential Housing, also was on hand to wish the students well.

"This trip shows the strength and compassion of our students," Sheets said. "They picked a needy area and prioritized their commitments to make it happen. I am so impressed by their efforts."

The group is expected to reach New Orleans on Friday around 7 a.m. and return to Athens on Tuesday.