By Lisa Capobianco
For Southington resident Al Vojtila, spring break meant giving back to residents of New Orleans still affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Currently a freshman at Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., Vojtila participated in the Alternative Spring Break in March, volunteering with eight other students with the Gulf coast Volunteers for the Long Haul and the St. Bernard ‘s Project. The trip was made possible through the fundraising efforts of the student volunteers, who raised more than $4,000 through letter campaigns, raffles, charity dinners, raffles and more.
The Gulf Coast Volunteers for the Long Haul is a non-denominational, all-volunteer, non-profit that has organized and leads week-long service trips every two months for volunteers since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, according to the organization’s website.
St. Bernard’s Project is a program that assists communities affected by disasters through four programs, each designed to create safe and affordable housing as well as jobs for veterans and to ensure that families can recover efficiently, according to the non-profit organization’s website.
Every morning, Vojtila and her peers worked on a home in the Seventh Ward, taking part in various projects such as mudding, sanding and priming. She also completed other projects such as gardening, painting and working in the Habitat ReStore Center every afternoon.
Besides fixing homes, Vojtila helped clean the outside property of a local church.
“I saw how the people there were so grateful,” said Vojtila, noting how she saw homes that were still blocked off and yards that still had water damage. “They were so appreciative—being able to help them and see how happier they are is great.”
Vojtila recalled how she helped a local resident named Miss Greta, who also not only survived the storm, but also survived cancer. Vojtila and her peers painted Miss Greta’s front porch, weeded her garden, and also painted her living room.
“She told us that ‘Hurricane Katrina was actually a blessing for me because it brought people like you to my home and made my family bigger,’” Vojtila recalled.
The Alternative Spring Break was not the first time Vojtila has volunteered outside the state. Over a year ago, the former student of St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol took a mission trip to Haiti to help out the Kay Mari (House of Mary) Orphanage.
She helped collect donations for the orphanage, which houses over 20 children up to age 15.
“I fell in love with the place and I fell in love with the people,” said Vojtila, adding how the trip ultimately inspired her to get involved in Alternative Spring Break.
This summer, Vojtila plans to lead her own group of volunteers to return to the orphanage, with the goal of providing the children food, medicine, clothes, and other donations. The economics and business communications double major said she would ultimately love to set up a non-profit organization in Haiti to continue her passion for helping the country.
“I think that would be so rewarding,” Vojtila said.