For close to five years, Amherst High School students have been making a yearly pilgrimage to Louisiana to help communities that are still devastated by Katrina damage.
“We provide free labor,” said Justin Kim, an Amherst Regional High senior who went for the second time last month.
This year, two groups of students who are part of the Amherst Relief Coalition will make the trip down — one went during February break and the other will be going during spring break.
The first group, which had 23 students and five adults, made a week-long trip to Dulac, La., a coastal town southwest of New Orleans with a population of 2,500 people. Kim said that they have also volunteered in New Orleans — where the April group will go — but Dulac is the first place the group went nearly five years ago, and they have been going back ever since.
Dulac has been struck by a series of hurricanes over the last decade. Houses that still have damage from Katrina, were hit again by hurricanes in 2008, Kim said. “The most depressing thing for us was that we can still see the water line.”
Each day, students on the trip worked from 8 a.m. into the late afternoon, rebuilding those houses. In the evenings, they volunteered and ate meals at the Dulac Community Center — which organized the work plan and put them up.
The Amherst Relief Coalition is not affiliated with ARHS, and the students had to pay their own way. The trip cost $515 each, or nearly $15,000 in total, said Kim. He said that students manage to raise nearly $5,000 to defray the costs.
The owner of J. Gumbo’s restaurant in Amherst, Todd Michael, held a fundraiser for the group. Kim said that Michael was so enthusiastic about their efforts, he kept contacting him with other fundraising suggestions.
Kim coordinated the trip with Ankrish Milne and Eliza Fishman, also ARHS seniors. Kim said it was rewarding to meet the people they were helping and see the results of their work.
HEADING SOUTH: Another Hadley school employee is following former School Superintendent Nicholas Young to South Hadley. Kathleen Boyden, Hadley’s director of student services, is resigning to take the same post in the South Hadley Public Schools. She will be leaving at the end of June, and begin her new position July 1. Young left Hadley last June to become superintendent of schools in South Hadley, and Diana Bonneville left Hopkins Academy in December to become principal of South Hadley High School.
TEACHER EXCELLENCE: The Amherst and Pelham elementary schools are seeking nominations for outstanding teachers. The Roger L. Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award, an annual award that will be given for the first time this year, will be granted to one elementary school educator. The sponsors of the award are fundraising in order to establish a $25,000 endowment for future years. This year’s recipient will be given a stipend of $750. Nominations are due April 1.