Students recognized after volunteer trips

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More than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, residents still find themselves slowly picking up the pieces and rebuilding their lives. For the past two years, K-State students have seen the destruction firsthand and have been recognized for their efforts in the city.

In October, the Associated General Contractors of America awarded the K-State AGC chapter third place in the 2010 Outstanding Chapter Contest, with their assistance in New Orleans as a key factor. The award was a continuation of the group’s success, as the chapter ranked second-best last year.

“It’s something we’ve done for the past two years, and we plan on doing it again this year,” said Ray Buyle, faculty adviser for the group and assistant professor of architectural engineering and construction science, about the New Orleans trip. “I think it’s a great opportunity for our students, a lot had never experienced anything like that before. It’s different than on TV, you actually see the desperation and despair.”

The K-State chapter is a student-run organization and is sponsored by AGC of Kansas, a member of AGC of America. The group, made up of freshmen through seniors, works on local construction projects for nonprofit organizations and also educates younger students on the construction industry and its career opportunities.

“We’ve worked on a vast array of projects,” Buyle said. “We’re in the process of working on putting in parking lots for one of the religious groups affiliated with the university.”

The group also worked to restore a park in Chapman, Kan., after a tornado swept through the city in 2008. Their efforts were in collaboration with the television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Buyle said these volunteer projects are a great opportunity for construction science students to apply their knowledge.

“We have the skill set and equipment,” he said. “Most groups come down and have a lot of energy and a lot of manpower, but no skill.”

Out of the 125 students in AGC, 24 of them traveled to help with home construction and repair in the Lower 9th Ward of the city during an alternative spring break trip. The Lower 9th Ward saw a great deal of media attention after the hurricane, after levee breaks and catastrophic flooding devastated the area.

“It’s kind of like driving through a ghost town,” Buyle said. “A lot of people didn’t have insurance. They may have had hurricane insurance, but most of the damage was caused by flooding. It’s just maybe 1 out of 10 homes that are occupied anymore; most people walked away.”

One student who has taken the alternative break twice, Colin Newbold, senior in construction science and management, said the damage in the Lower 9th Ward was still excessive.

“There are cars that were torched that are just sitting on the side of the road. All over the neighborhoods, there are still houses with big red X’s from being condemned,” he said. “It was wild to see.”

Newbold said while it was good to get experience in his career field, it was also good to see the people they were helping.

“I was great — it gives me more hands-on experience, and you know at the same time you’re doing something nice for the community.”

For Emily Enneking, AGC’s treasurer and senior in construction science and management, the area was a sight different from any she had seen before.

“We were in a suburban area with one house that still had an X on the roof and everything was boarded up, and next door there was one that was fixed up,” she said. “It was different.”

The students split into three groups to work on three different houses during their four-and-a-half-day volunteer session. Enneking said her group worked on the interior of a house, finishing up painting, putting up doors, tiling the bathroom, putting up kitchen cabinets and laying out the kitchen floor.

“We get to learn, but the biggest part is to benefit the people that we’re helping,” she said.

Buyle said many people who stayed in New Orleans have been living out of their cars, saving little by little to repair their homes. Because the homeowners are having to pay out-of-pocket for repair materials, having volunteers do the actual labor is essential.

“They were really thankful to have a group like ours,” he said.

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