Faith through service

Local students find faith connections in rebuilding New Orleans
July 29, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.
Faith through service
Faith through service


By David Karas | Correspondent

NEW ORLEANS, LA. – The crumbling front porch was the only remnant of a home devastated by Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Save for a few stray blocks of concrete and a length of pipe, the porch stood alone on a lot that used to hold a home. Around it, only a few rebuilt homes were visible in what used to be a thriving, filled neighborhood.

More than six years after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf, some portions of New Orleans continue to resemble a disaster area plagued with dilapidated roadways, rubble and some homes that have remained untouched since the floodwaters receded. And while there has been some progress, thousands upon thousands of former city residents have yet to return, leaving their devastated homes or cleared lots vacant.

“I feel like a lot of people still don’t know,” said Tommy Mladenetz, a parishioner in St. Mary Byzantine Parish, Trenton and a junior at The College of New Jersey, Ewing, who was visiting New Orleans for the third time since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in August 2005.

Mladenetz is a member of the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement at TCNJ, which provides tuition scholarships to more than 80 students who spend 300 hours each year serving the Trenton and Mercer County communities and mobilizing fellow students around community needs.

For the sixth year, the Bonner Center sent a contingent of students to New Orleans for a week during the winter break to aid in rebuilding efforts.

What strikes Mladenetz is the general lack of awareness many outside of the city have of the volume of work that still has to be done.

He says the annual service trip provides him the opportunity to live out his Catholic faith through service. And with his father, Thomas, serving as executive director of the Mercer County CYO, faith is all but foreign to his family.

“As Catholics, we are always trying to serve our faith,” he said. “What better way than to help others in need?”

‘Emptying oneself in service to others’

Natasha Roig, a freshman at TCNJ and an active member of the Catholic Campus Ministry there, tries to maintain faith as a part of her everyday life.

“My faith guides my actions,” she said. “That’s part of why I am here.”

She said that given her call to serve others as a Catholic, attending the service trip was a natural choice.

“I like the idea that we are going out of our way to help people who have gone through things we have never really experienced in our lives,” she said. “If you have an opportunity, I think it is something to take advantage of.”

 “True joy comes from emptying oneself in the service of others,” she continued. “You can see service and faith – they are really hand-in-hand.”

The trip included five days of rebuilding and other service to city residents, as well as educational opportunities for participants and a driving tour of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, among the hardest-hit areas in the region.

A mission rooted in faith

It is groups like those from TCNJ that keep the city moving forward, says Daryl Keisow, director and founder of the United Saints Recovery Project, a nonprofit organization that assists city residents with a wide range of rehabilitation and community projects.

 “Volunteers made it possible for many people who had no hope,” he said.

A roofer by trade, Keisow had been laid off shortly before Katrina hit the Gulf region. Originally visiting the city to help repair the roof of a church, he was hooked on helping to bring the city back to its prior strength. He founded United Saints in 2007, and to date the organization has completed over 100 community projects through the help of more than 4,000 volunteers from across the globe.

Keisow believes that faith plays a large factor for many who chose to spend time in the “Big Easy.”

“The reason I came down was an act of faith,” he said. “I came down here to work on a church.”

He added that Catholics in particular can find strong messages encouraging service to others in their worship.

“A life of service is what Christ commands of Christians, and a lot of times that is what is missing in a lot of congregations,” he said.

For freshman LeighAnn DePamphilis, a motivation to serve others is an integral part of her Catholic faith.

“It makes me feel like a better person,” she said. “It makes me feel like I am doing something good for other people.”

Leaving a mark on a devastated city

When Brian Eastwold’s home was left uninhabitable after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf region and floodwaters rushed through his Lakeside home, he was the victim of contractor fraud and lost what little money he could spend on rebuilding.

Nearly six and a half years after the storm, Eastwold’s new home is close to being completed, thanks to volunteer efforts. On a warm Monday afternoon, he sat outside of his small, makeshift office-turned-house, which he has called home since shortly after the waters receded more than six years ago.

“It surprised the heck out of me,” he said of the storm.

David Komoroski, a site supervisor with the St. Bernard Project, was working on Eastwold’s project.

Working with just one other full-time supervisor on each project, Komoroski said that so much less work would be accomplished if it weren’t for volunteer groups who spend a week or two with the Project.

He said that teams can accomplish nearly 30 times as much with volunteers than without.

Volunteers can be college students, church groups or even individuals, Komoroski said. His favorite group was a team of Catholic sisters, who he said exhibited extreme diligence and attention to detail for the work they completed.

Keisow said that there is something special about New Orleans that attracts volunteers, and keeps them coming back.

“Even though it is six years after the hurricane, people want to come to New Orleans,” he said.

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By David Karas | Correspondent

NEW ORLEANS, LA. – The crumbling front porch was the only remnant of a home devastated by Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Save for a few stray blocks of concrete and a length of pipe, the porch stood alone on a lot that used to hold a home. Around it, only a few rebuilt homes were visible in what used to be a thriving, filled neighborhood.

More than six years after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf, some portions of New Orleans continue to resemble a disaster area plagued with dilapidated roadways, rubble and some homes that have remained untouched since the floodwaters receded. And while there has been some progress, thousands upon thousands of former city residents have yet to return, leaving their devastated homes or cleared lots vacant.

“I feel like a lot of people still don’t know,” said Tommy Mladenetz, a parishioner in St. Mary Byzantine Parish, Trenton and a junior at The College of New Jersey, Ewing, who was visiting New Orleans for the third time since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in August 2005.

Mladenetz is a member of the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement at TCNJ, which provides tuition scholarships to more than 80 students who spend 300 hours each year serving the Trenton and Mercer County communities and mobilizing fellow students around community needs.

For the sixth year, the Bonner Center sent a contingent of students to New Orleans for a week during the winter break to aid in rebuilding efforts.

What strikes Mladenetz is the general lack of awareness many outside of the city have of the volume of work that still has to be done.

He says the annual service trip provides him the opportunity to live out his Catholic faith through service. And with his father, Thomas, serving as executive director of the Mercer County CYO, faith is all but foreign to his family.

“As Catholics, we are always trying to serve our faith,” he said. “What better way than to help others in need?”

‘Emptying oneself in service to others’

Natasha Roig, a freshman at TCNJ and an active member of the Catholic Campus Ministry there, tries to maintain faith as a part of her everyday life.

“My faith guides my actions,” she said. “That’s part of why I am here.”

She said that given her call to serve others as a Catholic, attending the service trip was a natural choice.

“I like the idea that we are going out of our way to help people who have gone through things we have never really experienced in our lives,” she said. “If you have an opportunity, I think it is something to take advantage of.”

 “True joy comes from emptying oneself in the service of others,” she continued. “You can see service and faith – they are really hand-in-hand.”

The trip included five days of rebuilding and other service to city residents, as well as educational opportunities for participants and a driving tour of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, among the hardest-hit areas in the region.

A mission rooted in faith

It is groups like those from TCNJ that keep the city moving forward, says Daryl Keisow, director and founder of the United Saints Recovery Project, a nonprofit organization that assists city residents with a wide range of rehabilitation and community projects.

 “Volunteers made it possible for many people who had no hope,” he said.

A roofer by trade, Keisow had been laid off shortly before Katrina hit the Gulf region. Originally visiting the city to help repair the roof of a church, he was hooked on helping to bring the city back to its prior strength. He founded United Saints in 2007, and to date the organization has completed over 100 community projects through the help of more than 4,000 volunteers from across the globe.

Keisow believes that faith plays a large factor for many who chose to spend time in the “Big Easy.”

“The reason I came down was an act of faith,” he said. “I came down here to work on a church.”

He added that Catholics in particular can find strong messages encouraging service to others in their worship.

“A life of service is what Christ commands of Christians, and a lot of times that is what is missing in a lot of congregations,” he said.

For freshman LeighAnn DePamphilis, a motivation to serve others is an integral part of her Catholic faith.

“It makes me feel like a better person,” she said. “It makes me feel like I am doing something good for other people.”

Leaving a mark on a devastated city

When Brian Eastwold’s home was left uninhabitable after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf region and floodwaters rushed through his Lakeside home, he was the victim of contractor fraud and lost what little money he could spend on rebuilding.

Nearly six and a half years after the storm, Eastwold’s new home is close to being completed, thanks to volunteer efforts. On a warm Monday afternoon, he sat outside of his small, makeshift office-turned-house, which he has called home since shortly after the waters receded more than six years ago.

“It surprised the heck out of me,” he said of the storm.

David Komoroski, a site supervisor with the St. Bernard Project, was working on Eastwold’s project.

Working with just one other full-time supervisor on each project, Komoroski said that so much less work would be accomplished if it weren’t for volunteer groups who spend a week or two with the Project.

He said that teams can accomplish nearly 30 times as much with volunteers than without.

Volunteers can be college students, church groups or even individuals, Komoroski said. His favorite group was a team of Catholic sisters, who he said exhibited extreme diligence and attention to detail for the work they completed.

Keisow said that there is something special about New Orleans that attracts volunteers, and keeps them coming back.

“Even though it is six years after the hurricane, people want to come to New Orleans,” he said.

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