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An Alternative Spring Break

Desiree Cooper

Suzie Lechtenberg

E Okobi

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Janel Knight primes baseboards in St. Bernard, La.
(Jenni Lawson)
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Desiree Cooper: So describe for me, where are you now?

Knight: I'm in a house in St. Bernard's Parish, which is right outside of New Orleans. And we've been doing repairs to the house, so we've been placing down floors. We've been painting walls and just making the house look like a house.

Have you met the owner of the house?

Knight: Yes, we met the owner yesterday and she just sat us down and she told us her whole story and she gave us all hugs. It was just an amazing experience.

What was it like listening to her tell her story?

Knight: It was very emotional. She told us that her brother was a heroin addict before the storm and when the storm hit, he's just not doing any drugs any more. And she said, 'You know, I lost so many material values, but I got my brother back.' And that was just phenomenal that she went through all of this, lost everything and is able to still see the positive side of things. And a lot of the people that we've been seeing are the same way and it just makes you so grateful for your life and life itself.

This isn't your first spring break doing volunteer work, you've done it before, you did it in Biloxi last year?

Knight: Yes, I did.

How was Biloxi different than you imagined it would be?

Knight: Well, I had never been to the South before. When I saw the destruction, I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn't know it was going to be that bad. A lot of the residents are senior citizens and just to know that a lot of them didn't even know what FEMA was, and this is more than a year later, it just made me really upset.

Is that part of the reason why you've made it a point to volunteer over your spring break?

Knight: Why I came down here was because I saw and I heard people saying that nobody cares about them, that their country didn't care, and I cared. And I knew that I'm a college student, I don't have much money, but what I can do is I can volunteer my time and I can volunteer my energy to actually help and rebuild.

Has your volunteer activity impacted at all your political awareness?

Knight: Yes, before we actually arrived in New Orleans, we had been having meetings for eight weeks, and we focused on government, and the government's role in the recovery process. And this actually helped me understand there was more. We actually had a chance to meet with a FEMA representative in New Orleans and that definitely has opened my eyes to seeing the whole story of things and really digging into things and it does make you want to become more politically involved to make sure that issue is changed.

Do you feel sort of like an anomaly amongst your peer group?

Knight: No, it's actually a very popular trend that's happening. For our trip, we actually had an application process and we had to turn away people. It was too popular of a trip and we didn't have enough room and vans to actually do it. So I know it's a popular trend and it's something that people want to do.

You said you felt joy at being able to be there and make a difference, and you've returned to the Gulf Coast area. You've returned to New Orleans. Do you still have joy? Do you feel like you made a difference?

Knight: Yes, in fact, I think all the volunteers have made a difference and it's a change that you can actually see. And now that I've returned, I've seen so much improvement and it proves that if you want to make a change and you just come down here and you want to volunteer and help build a house - no experience needed - you can make a difference. You can literally see it and it makes me happy to know that I was part of that process and that other college students and young people are doing that as well.

Well Janel, thanks for joining us.

Knight: Thanks.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Charles Knight

    From Boston, MA, 03/16/2008

    I would first like to thankNPR for interviewing my daughter,I am so proud of her for taking on this challenge! I am a college grad of the seventies life was alot different obviously,and I felt for a long time that today's young people need to speak up and step to today's challenges, I have certtainly tried to teach that to Janel as well as her brothers and I thank God that they all along with the other young people of today are accepting that challenge! Again I thank you NPR for highlighting my daughter in particular I am a long time listner and I have always felt that NPR is really imnportant to us all if only our government realized that( I wont go there) Thank you and be continue to "keep on keeping on"Thank you Charles A. Knight

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