Students return from life-altering trip

January 16, 2008 1:02:06 PM PST
Trenton High School students were busy at their regular school day routines this week, and on the surface things may seems pretty normal. Students going to class, friends talking with each other in the hallway and at their lockers. But for a group of nearly two dozens students, their lives have been forever changed after a week-long trip to New Orleans.

The students are part of the Interact Club at Trenton Central High School, which is an outlet for students to participate in community service.

The club meets weekly to brainstorm for ideas on local projects, like working at the Trenton soup kitchen, visiting with senior citizens, collecting food for the needy, but last week presented a special opportunity to work with the New Orleans Habitat for Humanity to help the ongoing rebuilding effort from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Dolores Reilly, advisor to the Rotary sponsored Interact Club at Trenton Central High School was one of the chaperones. "Our students' eagerness and energy toward helping change the world is what encouraged us to explore the possibility of working in New Orleans," she said.

Of course, the group had no way to know the full-impact and the way the trip would change them until they actually arrived.

The devastation, debris and destruction are still evident more than two years later.

"What we saw was breathtaking -- debris, poverty." said 12th grader Dwayne Tattnall.

The Trenton group traveled to Camp Hope in St. Bernard's Parish, Lousiana, and then on to the "Musicians Village" worksite, a community started by New Orleans native Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, to work hands-on for four straight days building a house.

Eleventh-grader Bentrice Jusu joked about the muscles she has in her arm now after all the hammering, but it was her heart muscle that was tugged the most.

"At first my focus on this as a resume builder, but I really connected with them down there and I feel a piece of me was left there. I really would like to go back." she said.

Mrs. Edna, as she's called by the Trenton students, was the recipient of all their hard work. The elderly woman lost everything in the storms. She had been living in a FEMA trailer for the last two years. Edna was not physically able to provide the "sweat equity" that Habitat for Humanity usually requires for its home owners, but with the help of some of her relatives and the Trenton kids the house was built.

Today in a classroom, just two days back from the trip, students had a few moments to reflect back on what had just happened. Some students were reviewing digital photos on a camera and examining the video they shot with new found friends. Others were looking over the journals full of personal passages, hand-drawn pictures and inspiring poetry that each of them kept during the trip.

They all realize it wasn't just a house they built. It was the building of a new life for someone in need as these young students have a new perspective on the meaning of community, whether here in Trenton or a long bus ride away in Louisiana.


For more information about Camp Hope visit-

For more information about New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity visit-