During winter break, 20 Fairfield students will return to New Orleans after receiving criticism from Fairfield two years earlier. They will be accompanied by Student Programs and Leadership Development Assistant Director Tyler McClain and Associate Director of Career Planning Stephanie Grejtak.

The only student-run service trip, separate from Campus Ministry, will focus on aiding the relief efforts that still continue eight years after Hurricane Katrina left the city in ruins.

“I don’t think you realize how much work still needs to be done in New Orleans until you get there,” said  Benafsha Juyia ‘14, one of the student leaders of the trip.

Once the students arrive in New Orleans, they will begin working on the home repairs, Juyia said. The group will work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then in the evenings have reflection periods where students talk about their experiences.

On the trip, students will help rebuild the outside of a home by painting, installing windows, and repairing the roof.

Students will leave on Jan. 5 to collaborate with a New Orleans-based organization called Rebuilding Together, which helps repair homes and spend time with the locals.

On the last day of their trip, the group will volunteer at an animal shelter by interacting and playing with hundreds of abandoned animals from the storm. They will also help organize, clean and paint the shelter, said Monique Goguen ‘14, the other student leader of the trip.

While this year’s trip follows the guidelines Campus Ministry uses for their service ventures,  two years ago, the service trip group faced its share of criticism.

“When I came to Fairfield, the trip had a reputation of being an excursion to New Orleans and not so much focused on the service aspect,” McClain said.

Juyia and Goguen said that students weren’t performing to the best of their ability; they wandered from the group without supervision and arrived at the worksite hungover.

Even though this is a student-run service trip, the group has to follow Fairfield codes and regulations, Goguen noted.

In light of this, Director of Student Involvement Fred Kuo said the question was asked if students were using the money they fundraised solely for service work.

“Is it a proper use of money if students aren’t fully spending their time in the way that they were fundraising for?” Kuo asked.

Juyia and Goguen noted that last year was a much better experience for everyone involved. Lexi Tarabour ‘13 was the leader of last year’s service trip and was instrumental in getting it back to a more service oriented, reflection experience, Kuo said.

“It is so much more focused on the service aspect of the trip. The past few years the advisors have worked to get the trip to where it is,” McClain said.

Last year, aside from their service work, the group went to Loyola University New Orleans where they heard stories told by Katrina victims. In addition, the group went to a Pelicans basketball game, attended a brass band concert and went on a swamp tour throughout the week.

“It is so rewarding going down there, because people are so thankful for everything you do, even though it’s been so long since the hurricane happened,” said Goguen. “I personally want this to be something they will never forget because it will be an experience they’ll never forget.”

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