After intense flooding ravaged the Baton Rouge, La. area in August, Cornell’s Protestant Cooperative Ministry sent a group of eight students to help provide relief for families whose properties got damaged.
The group of students worked with the organization Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge, a local community development group, to repair three houses by the end of their trip.
“When I heard about the trip, I realized I could either hang around my house for another week, or take that time and donate it to someone who needs it a whole lot more than I do,” said Adam Gleisner ’18, one of the participants.
Hannah Dahl ’20 , another participant, said that she was particularly surprised to see the extent of damage. Even though the flooding occurred in mid-summer, she said some places were just starting to get repaired and people were still sleeping in wet furniture in houses that were growing mold.
According to a video by Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge, 110,000 homes were flooded after the Baton Rouge area received 20 to 40 inches of rain over 72 hours in August 2016. However, the storm did not receive much press attention.
“It was shocking to me that I hadn’t heard about the flooding when it did so much damage,” said Sun staff writer John Yoon ’20, another one of the participants.
Adam Gleisner ’18, another participant, said Baton Rouge’s poorest neighborhoods were still “struggling the most” with the flood damage.
Taryn Mattice, the chaplain of Cornell’s Protestant Cooperative Ministry, said that additional public funding and increased volunteering efforts would be necessary to fully rehabilitate the damage done by the floods.
Yoon said that policy could also be used to help address some of the issues.
Fake contractors were also problematic, promising to fix houses and then taking people’s FEMA checks and skipping town, according to participant Morgan Cooper ’17.
Prior to the flooding, tensions were high in Baton Rouge after the police shooting of Alton Sterling, according to Cooper. However, Mattice said that the flood brought people together and community members rallied to support each others in the aftermath of the floods.
Cooper said she was motivated to work in Baton Rouge primarily because she wished to work in an environment different from the one she was used to.
“I think race relations in the South is a really interesting topic that I haven’t had a lot of exposure to here going to school here in the North,” she said.
Overall, participants said that they felt like they made a significant impact and found the experience rewarding.
“It was a good way to feel like you had done something,” Dahl said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot, it’s a couple houses out of thousands, but for these people’s lives, it really did make a big difference.”