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Drew University Students Help Rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward

Volunteers Without Borders lends a hand to the New Orleans district 

February 2023 – Fourteen Drew University students traveled to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans to provide support to local nonprofit Lowernine.org and the community they serve. An astonishing 100 percent of homes in the area were rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Katrina.

Drew’s Volunteer Without Borders (VWB), an entirely student-run organization that connects students to service opportunities in local communities, organized the event. They aim to provide accessible travel opportunities for students as well as nondisruptive service to the host communities. 

The VWB student board consists of Presidents Ange Wunderle C‘24 and Fatima Jawneh C’24, Vice Presidents Rachel Sirica C‘24 and Jen Arias C‘25, and CFO Anna Marino C‘24. Several board members serve as trip leads on each excursion. 

“We aim to plan trips that allow our Drew travel group to contribute to sustainable service onsite and also contribute to spreading project awareness with the greater school community when back on campus,” said Sirica.

Through the partnership with Lowernine.org, students were able to work in the Lower Ninth Ward during the week-long trip, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and build relationships with people in the area. 

“We are so grateful to Lowernine.org for being incredible community partners and taking the time to both train and teach us,” said Arias. “Throughout the week, we learned about the structures and systems that allowed for such a disaster to occur and the lack of support in the years that followed.”

“We learned so much about the barriers NOLA faces, but were then met with an opportunity to do something about them and put our best efforts somewhere important, even if our time was limited.”

Associate Teaching Professor in Biology, Environmental Sciences and Studies, and Public Health Lisa Jordan was a trip chaperone. “I was so proud of them for bringing it together and creating such a warm and welcoming atmosphere that allowed everyone that participated to thrive,” she said. “I’m not sure they recognize how wonderful they are, but I hope they do!”

Jordan was particularly impressed with the student-led self-reflection at the end of each night and the camaraderie among the students. “Their shared respect for one another was really wonderful for me to witness,” she said.

“I loved learning about the different skills and talents students have—everyone’s individual strengths and elements they brought to our shared experience. They were such a fabulous collective, it was delightful.”

“It’s been really nice to come back to campus with new relationships built and such a formative, shared experience between all of us,” said Arias. “The trip was incredibly special, and an experience that will stick with me throughout my whole life.”

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