THURSTON COUNTY - Ten Black Hills High School students are turning their spring break into a "volunteer vacation."
They flew to New Orleans on Saturday and are working this week with the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit organization that repairs homes and buildings damaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
“They’re able to rebuild a house for about $15,000 in 12 weeks,” said Cindy Meyer of Tumwater, a parent who helped organize the trip.
For most of the youths – who call themselves the Tumwater Teens – it’s their second or third time helping the St. Bernard Project.
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“I love the people down there; they are really welcoming,” said Tanner Johnson, 17, who is on his second trip to New Orleans. “And I just love the culture.”
The teens sold candy at their school, held a garage sale and got a few business sponsors to help raise money for their trip. Each ended up paying about $350 out of pocket in expenses, Meyer said.
During their first spring break trip in 2009, the Tumwater Teens installed laminate flooring in a woman’s house. Last year, the group gutted out an old gym that was later turned into a church.
“It hadn’t been touched since the hurricane,” said Meyer’s daughter Lindsey, 18. In fact, there was still food in the refrigerator, water lines on the walls, and chairs stuck in the building’s rafters, she said.
The teens will receive credit for about 50 hours of community service for the project, and some plan to talk about their experience as part of their senior culminating project, Meyer said.
“The biggest thing I think is that they’re realizing they can make a difference,” she said. “They can actually make a change in someone’s life for the better.”
Meyer became involved with the St. Bernard Project about four years ago when she worked for the Washington State Guaranteed Education Tuition program. Her director asked her to explore ways the staff could help a charity or cause.
What started with a fundraiser to help a Hurricane Katrina victim, turned into a part-time hobby for Meyer.
“I was so impressed with them (St. Bernard Project), I kept wanting to help,” she said.
Over the years, Meyer and her family and friends have raised about $20,000 for St. Bernard Project.
“The stories that people tell are heartbreaking,” Meyer said.
The Tumwater Teens didn’t know what projects were in store for them this week, but they were excited about getting back to New Orleans.
“It’s cool to see it slowly come back together,” Lindsey Meyer said.
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433