By Dan Cooper
WESTFIELD - On April 10 movement science majors, from Westfield State College (WSC), told a group of peers at Scanlon Banquet Hall, of their February trip to New Orleans where they witnessed the aftermath and damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
"There are no words to describe or explain what it looks like down there," WSC Sophomore Ali Rheaume, from Blackstone, said to Reminder Publications. "Houses still had spray paint and water marks on them. New Orleans right now is a ghost town," she added. "There is nowhere to live or go."
Rheaume said the students headed to New Orleans to assist with Habitat for Humanity and to volunteer in the Mardi Gras marathon at the Superdome.
"We volunteered to help out with the course, and five members of our group actually ran it," Rheaume said.
Rheaume and her fellow students built a new house for one of many musicians found in New Orleans.
"We made a difference in someone's life by building that house," she said.
WSC Freshman Leo Lockman, of Littleton, added that it was good to be down there.
"It was a great experience," he said.
Jim Miller, athletic director for the University of New Orleans (UNO) and the man who guided the students through the city was on campus to thank the movement science students for their help in New Orleans.
"We have a great relationship with Habitat for Humanity. They provided the hammers and nails and a brief instructional period," Miller said.
The group had a fundraiser for CityPark, a New Orleans park destroyed by Katrina. The students raised $700 towards remodeling the park.
"The trip was the best experience I've ever had," Rheaume said.
Miller, who has served his position for four years, was also on hand to recount the horrors of the day Katrina hit.
"What we've gone through has been an eye opener for those who have visited us and thought everything was alright by now," he said. "When the storm hit, the power went out and I lost communication with my staff and athletes, who were evacuated all around the southern area," he explained. "It wasn't until the Tuesday after the storm that we were able to determine the damage and I got a hold of my staff."
Miller said he was eventually able to contact the Chancellor of UNO who told him that the campus needed to have an athletic season.
"My coaches used their contacts from around the country and were able to find homes for our sports teams," Miller said. "The storm unfortunately downsized our athletic program. We started with 200 athletes in 15 sports, after Katrina hit, we had to reduce the sports to six because we either lost the coach or funding."
Miller said the storm caused enrollment to drop by about 7,000 students.
"Our athletic program is currently fighting for survival," he said. "A lot of challenges lie ahead."
Miller said UNO was not the only school hit hard by Katrina.
"The entire public schools system has deteriorated," he said. "We are getting a lot of charter school input, which is our only hope to improve the education."