The University of Central Florida’s nationally recognized sport business management program has dedicated more than 43,000 volunteer hours to rebuilding hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.
Students, staff members, alumni and friends of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program have helped rebuild 107 homes during 36 trips to the city since 2006.
Their 37th trip began Sunday. Fifteen volunteers are spending four days rebuilding homes in the Lower Ninth Ward before returning to Orlando on Thursday. Volunteers are from both the DeVos program and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports, a UCF-based organization that strives to “use the power of sport to effect positive social change.”
Thousands of New Orleans residents remain displaced from their homes eight years after Hurricane Katrina’s 145-mph winds and 29-foot wall of water came ashore. More than 1,700 people in the region were killed, and hundreds of thousands of families were left homeless.
Students say they benefit from the experiences even more than the people whose houses – and lives – they are rebuilding.
“They lift our spirits,” said Jonah Stewart, a student from Birmingham, Ala., on his third trip to New Orleans. “Every time you go to the Lower Ninth Ward, you think people might be sad or disgruntled that other people have forgotten about them. But they are incredibly positive people despite their circumstances. They are always so thankful for what they have.
“It makes a huge difference for them to come back to their community.”
Led by endowed chair and director Richard Lapchick, the DeVos Sport Business Management Program is a master’s degree program that focuses on ethics, diversity, leadership and community service. The program has been named one of the top five in its field in the nation by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and ESPN The Magazine.
Richard and Helen DeVos, owners of RDV Sports and the Orlando Magic, have generously supported the program since its inception in 2002. Part of the DeVos family’s vision is for students to discover the power of sport in making a difference, and that has certainly happened in New Orleans.
After students made their first trip to New Orleans in December 2006, they formed the Hope for Stanley Alliance, named in honor of the man whose home they helped rebuild.
They coordinate the volunteer efforts through the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding the homes and lives of Katrina survivors. The Hope for Stanley Alliance has made more trips to New Orleans than any other partner of the St. Bernard Project.
Volunteers help with everything from painting to removing drywall to adding insulation and installing floors, whatever it takes to help New Orleans residents rebuild.
“We deeply appreciate Dr. Lapchick and his students. They embody our values,” said Zack Rosenburg, CEO of the St. Bernard Project. “The students acutely get that this is a marathon. There were 180,000 homes impacted. The recovery was expected to take 10 to 15 years, and we are in year eight. It’s about finishing the job.”
The St. Bernard Project still receives about 15 new requests each week from families who need help with rebuilding homes destroyed by the hurricane.
“What really opened everyone’s eyes was when we got there and realized how devastated it still is,” said DeVos student Becca Savolainen of Orlando, who made her first trip in August. “There were all of these empty lots with grass growing, probably taller than us. That’s where houses used to be, and it was eye-opening for me to see how many people haven’t come back.”
This week’s trip is the 39th overall for DeVos students, who also visited Long Island, N.Y., to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery, and Tuscaloosa, Ala., to assist victims of a 2011 tornado.