Tornado damages ABC’s volunteer facility

JoAnna DiCicco
Staff Writer

Torn-down buildings, damaged cars and muddy rubble are just some of the unsightly views volunteers a part of the College’s Alternative Break Club had the displeasure of watching via a live Facebook video.

Their New Orleans home away from home was destroyed by a tornado.

Emily Kratz, a volunteer during ABC’s Winter 2015 trip and a junior history and secondary education dual major, was among those who saw the video.

“It is really unfortunate because after all the hard work Project Homecoming has put into rebuilding homes year after year, they had to see that happen to their own home,” she said. “It is really terrible.”

ABC, a student organization committed to raising awareness and helping families in need, has traveled to New Orleans each year since 2008, working to help rebuild the damage created by Hurricane Katrina.

Students at Volunteer Village. (Photo courtesy of Dani DeQuintal)

However, a tornado on Feb. 7 destroyed Volunteer Village, the club’s residence during service trips. The village — an old church repurposed after Hurricane Katrina is the volunteer housing facility owned by the New Orleans rebuilding non-profit Project Homecoming.

The tornado, classified as a EF-3, which causes moderate to severe damage, was the first to ever to hit New Orleans, according to the National Weather Service. Seven tornadoes hit New Orleans that day, but the biggest was the one that damaged Volunteer Village.

“The entire upstairs was completely taken apart,” said Dani DeQuintal, ABC’s historian and a sophomore elementary education and iSTEM double major.

Prior to the devastating tornado, the facility had bunk beds in the dorm rooms, a full kitchen, community spaces, Wi-Fi and cable.

ABC’s most recent trip to New Orleans was not too long ago.

“Everyone was shocked. It came out of the blue,” DeQuintal said. “We were there just a few weeks ago.”

The club typically travels to New Orleans over the summer, winter and spring breaks. However, the upcoming spring trip will be different as they are staying at a new volunteer facility.

“Our main focus will still be to rebuild New Orleans because that is the club’s purpose,” DeQuintal said.“But the location change will be different for the club, especially for the returning members. The majority of our trips have been at Project Homecoming.”

Lauren Bsales, ABC’s vice president of fundraising and a sophomore deaf education and iSTEM double major, was upset about the damage to Volunteer Village because of the club’s history with Project Homecoming.

“It’s really hard-hitting because we have personal connections with the people that work at Project Homecoming,” Bsales said. “It’s hard to imagine staying somewhere else.”

Members of the club plan to help rebuild Volunteer Village during spring break.

ABC is also supporting Project Homecoming by asking students to donate to a fundraising page, which currently has 149 supporters and has raised more than $8,620 of its $15,000 goal.

In addition to donations, ABC is actively looking for volunteers for the spring trip.

“(Project Homecoming) really needs volunteer work, not just money,” DeQuintal said.

Bsales agreed.

“We want to help rebuild (Volunteer Village) because we know the good work that those people do,” Bsales said. “If volunteers don’t have a safe place to stay, no one can do service work.”

The rebuilding will not only benefit Project Homecoming and ABC, but the city of New Orleans, as well.

“A lot less government money is going to New Orleans now,” Bsales said. “Everyone thinks New Orleans is 100 percent fixed because the tourist areas are fine.”

That is not the case, though. New Orleans, specifically the residential areas, still needs much more repair.

Despite the destruction of Volunteer Village, ABC will continue to dedicate time and effort to help restore a city in need.

1 Comment on Tornado damages ABC’s volunteer facility

  1. A correction is needed to this article. I serve as the Disaster Response Team coordinator for the Presbytery of South Louisiana and was the Founding Director of Project Homecoming. The Volunteer Village is not owned by Project Homecoming. It is owned by the Presbytery of South Louisiana of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which leases the space to Project Homecoming. The Presbytery is working with the insurance adjuster and a structural engineer to determine whether the building can be salvaged. No decisions have been made yet about the building’s future. All of us who live in New Orleans are grateful for the long-term commitment that The College of New Jersey has made to the rebuilding of New Orleans- thank you!

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