Service learning on the bayou
By Lauren Highfill
The view from Bayou Liberty.
Seven students from Kennesaw State spent their spring break experiencing the culture of Bayou Liberty—spiced with ancient family histories, homemade gumbo and sweet pralines.
Hurricane Katrina ravaged this bayou community outside of New Orleans, La. More than two years later, residents are still restoring their homes, their histories and their hearts. Associate Professor of Art Charlotte Collins has made it her unofficial mission to help the area’s residents, preserve their histories and bring attention to this community that’s been through so much and still needs so much more.
In an effort to fulfill these needs, Collins organized a service-learning trip to the area over spring break for her ART 1107 class. The course, entitled New Orleans, Bayou Liberty and the North American Coast, explores these areas as a microcosm of the Atlantic world. Seven students, all non-art majors, participated in the three-day service-learning trip.
The group in the community playground they helped to clear.
The group participated in activities that engaged their muscles and their hearts. Their physical labor involved gutting a home and removing debris from a community playground. The group members were immersed in the Creole culture through bayou boat tours, storytelling and folk stories by the area’s residents. The residents’ hospitality extended to providing students with places to stay and with meals.
Collins has strong ties to Bayou Liberty; her parents’ home, more than 100 years old, weathered the storm with help from family, friends and the community. Although she has this deep connection to the area, Collins is quick to say, “I’m not doing this for myself. I want to draw attention to the residents and the importance of this area’s culture and history. It just means the world to me to have the students come.”
Becky Rodgers, an English major who went on the trip, said, “Talking to people was the most important part.” She says, “I feel like I had a year’s worth of experiences in two days. Hearing people talk—sensing their excitement and the pain they’ve experienced—the rapport was like family and there was a sense of community.”
The residents shared stories of their histories
before and after the hurricane.
From her experiences of the Bayou Liberty area and with its residents, Rodgers created a journal detailing her thoughts and emotions of the events. The trip also served as appropriate subject matter for an essay she did in her Spanish class. “I had so much to share, I was able to write much more than I was expected to,” she said.
“This service-learning project is important because it helps students understand the different cultures that played a part in creating Creole,” said Collins. “They get to meet and work side by side with the residents and understand that this catastrophe is something that has happened right here on our soil.”
Collins and Assistant Professor of Art Natasha Lovelace Habers will be taking another group of students to the area later this month, including those who are helping to create a one-of-a-kind artist’s book about the area as part of Collins’ Rooted in Liberte project.
As many students continue to experience the Louisiana bayou culture, meet the residents and donate their time, more of them will probably reflect Rodgers’ sentiment: “By helping this community, I got the feeling I was helping a good part of Louisiana.”
For more information about the Rooted in Liberte project, visit http://rootedinliberte.com.