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February 28, 2007

Purdue students spend spring break helping Katrina victims

Team-building training exercise
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Sixty residents and advisers from Purdue University residence halls will leave for Metairie, La., on March 9 to spend a week renovating homes heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

During Ultimate Spring Break Challenge 2007, students will spend their days removing water-damaged furniture, appliances, cabinets, carpets and walls from houses in neighborhoods near the New Orleans International Airport. The group will stay in a local church where they will prepare and eat meals. In the evenings students will engage in group and individual activities designed to reflect on lessons learned during the service project.

Each student has already been issued a journal in which they will record their experiences, thoughts and feelings before, during and after the trip.

"This trip is not attached to any academic class and there are no grades assessed to the student. There will, however, be numerous opportunities for students to learn," said Annette Brown, a residential life manager at Harrison Hall. "As advisers and educators, we take every opportunity possible to facilitate personal growth and development."

When not working, the students will seek opportunities to take in local culture, meet displaced residents and talk with Louisiana-based Purdue alumni.

"The response has been overwhelming - we've had to give apologies to scores of volunteers who we could not accommodate," said Vishnu Jaju, a student leader and Hawkins Hall resident assistant from Mumbai, India. "Based on my experience from our first trip last year to help Habitat for Humanity in Pennsylvania, I've assured every participant that they are about to engage in their most rewarding 'vacation' ever."

All students are required to participate in three pretrip training sessions where they learn teamwork, safety precautions, proper tool usage and how to best interact with disaster victims whose lives are still being rebuilt.

The total cost of the trip is approximately $400 per student. Each student will pay $150 out-of-pocket, with the remainder being solicited from family, friends and the community. Individual and group fundraising continues. A volunteer committee has successfully sought support and grants from entities such as the Purdue Office of Engagement, University Residences, Boiler Television, Starbucks Coffee Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Air Tran Airways Inc.,, Follett's Purdue Bookstores, All-Star Trophy and Awards Inc. and mtvU. Sodexho Inc. will provide each Purdue volunteer with several meals at dining facilities it manages at four local universities.

"I look forward to what we can accomplish together in Louisiana," said Daniel Burch, a junior majoring in civil engineering from Fishers, Ind. "This is not only a great opportunity to help those in need but also to inspire others to help."

Burch was selected to provide news reports from the trip that possibly will be broadcast to hundreds of college campuses via mtvU.

When the students return to campus, they will share their experiences with each other and the greater campus community. A student filmmaker will accompany the group to record the entire trip with a high-definition, digital steadycam. Several students will be issued video cameras to record the experience from their perspective. The video will be edited into a documentary that will air for the remainder of the semester on Boiler TV, Purdue's on-campus cable television system.

"The mission of the Spring Break Challenge is very similar to that of Purdue University Residences as a whole," said Tom Paczolt, director of residential life who is serving as a trip adviser. "We are constantly seeking opportunities to develop leaders who will positively impact their surrounding community."

Planning for the alternative spring break trip began last May. Residents from Earhart, Harrison, Hawkins, Owen, Wiley and Young residence halls and Hilltop Apartments were recruited during callouts earlier this academic year. Jessica Bertsch, the residential life manager at Hawkins and Young halls who initiated the 2006 and 2007 trips, said next year's goals include recruiting volunteers from every residence on campus. Purdue houses nearly 12,000 students on-campus, making it the largest university residence program in the nation where participation is entirely voluntary.

"If we're going to make a difference, we have to inspire others to pick up where we leave off," Bertsch said. "I hope that is our legacy."

Writer: Jim Schenke, (765) 404-2275,

Sources: Jessica Bertsch, (765) 494-7187,

Annette Brown, (765) 494-2640,

Vishnu Jaju, (765) 430-7267,

Daniel Burch, (317) 543-9787,

Tom Paczolt, (765) 494-1000,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Note to Journalists: Photo and interview opportunities are available as participants board the bus at 6 p.m. on March 9 at Earhart Hall. Similar opportunities exist during the final training session at 7 p.m. on Sunday (March 4) at Hillenbrand Hall atrium. For more information, contact Jim Schenke at (765) 404-2275,

Purdue students, clockwise from bottom, Fernando Moreira of West Lafayette, Ind., Kevin Tait of Wheaton, Ill., Michael Griffin of Brown Dear, Wis., and Sarah Casares, residential life manager for Purdue's Hilltop Apartments, engage in a team-building training exercise as they prepare to join dozens of other Purdue students on a spring break trip to Louisiana to renovate houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina. (Purdue University Residences photo/Mallory Parsons)

A publication-quality photo is available at

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