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Senior Alexandria Almeida travels to New Orleans
hMore than seven years later, the city of New Orleans is still struggling with the devastating effects from Hurricane Katrina. In an effort to pay it forward, Rocky Hill High School has completed six annual service trips to the great American city.

When Alexandria Almeida '13 was asked to join her father, principal of Rocky Hill High School, as a chaperone this year's trip, she agreed without hesitation.

“My dad has been doing this trip since he became principal five years ago," said Almeida. " I was always interested in his stories, but never thought I, too, would have the opportunity to take part since I never attended Rocky Hill High.”

From February 18 through 25, five chaperones and 25 junior and senior students completed three full work days. They worked on four different houses, all at different stages of completion. Under the supervision of Habitat for Humanity volunteers, the Rocky Hill group painted the exterior of the homes, fixed porches, installed interior hardware and completed an entire handicap ramp, among many other projects.

“The students’ work ethic was incredible,” Almeida explained. “For many of us, this was the first time using a paintbrush or saw, but still everyone accepted tasks without hesitation or complaint.”

The four homes were sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, an organization dedicated to building simple and affordable homes for families in need. These houses and many of the houses that Rocky Hill has worked on in the past are in the Ninth Ward- an area of great poverty that also suffered tremendously from levee breaches and flooding from Katrina.

“You can tell which houses are Habitat houses in the area, and, unfortunately, there aren’t many, in comparison to all those that still remain in shambles,” Almeida said. But still, hope remains. 

The students and chaperones brought incredible energy and life to the New Orleans neighborhoods, and their hard work never went unnoticed. Residents of neighboring houses would walk or drive by to give words of encouragement and gratitude as the group worked. Even after a work day was completed, the story of Rocky Hill would spread as curious passers-by approached students on the city streets, in restaurants and at trolley stops.

The proud people of New Orleans are persistent in restoring their great city, and even after extreme catastrophe, they remain hopeful. It is their gratitude that keeps Rocky Hill High School coming back.

English teacher David Fortier was the original faculty advisor for the trip and still continues to attend the trip each year. “After the first trip, I fell in love with New Orleans, its people, its pain and its potential—not just for the people there, but for the students who travel there,” he said.

Fortier and the other chaperones agreed that a trip like this allows individuals to see the world and learn that anyone can make a difference. In a single week, the 30 participants, and those who traveled before them, have the opportunity to learn about themselves and connect with those in need on a personal level.

“Many of our students and many people in general have never witnessed or experienced poverty,” said Principal Almeida. “This trip exposes our students to what lies outside the comforts of Rocky Hill. It is a wake-up call that allows them to participate in a great cause.”  

Though the trip is a huge expense, the faculty and students would like to continue their efforts in New Orleans, as well as establish a Habitat for Humanity club that does community service within Rocky Hill and surrounding areas. The yearly trip has become a part of the culture at Rocky Hill High school. For Alexandria Almeida though, the trip has made her think about her future.

“I have never had an opportunity to give back in this capacity before,” said Alexandria Almeida. “You know that every paint stroke, every drill hole, every drip of sweat is meaningful-you end up forgetting about yourself in all of it and thinking about the memories, happiness and safety that this house will bring to its future owners.”

A communications major, Almeida hopes to work in public relations for non-profit organizations after graduation. With a personal interest in public health and welfare, the trip gave her exposure, but also purpose.

“In this day and age, so many of us spend life just going through the motions without any motivation or passion for what we do,” said Almeida. “We seem to forget about the world going on outside our personal comfort zones, and this trip was a turning point for me. New Orleans will forever be a special place for me and an inspiration for all future endeavors.”  

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