Royal Oak High School students raised funds for an 18-hour bus trip to Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana to spend their school break stripping through the wreckage left behind by the ruinous tropical cyclone that washed ashore nearly two years ago.
Working with the National Relief Network, students donned hard hats and goggles as they worked at tearing down homes. Students were moved as they rummaged through the personal belongings left behind.
"We found someone's high school diploma. It made me wonder, 'Why is this taking so long?'" said Casey Linenberg, a junior at ROHS. "These people have been without homes for so long."
Allan Savoie, a senior, remembers the drama of stripping down a site and coming across an abandoned refrigerator.
"The contents were two years old," Savoie said. "Everything in it was rotten and filled with maggots."
And then there were wasps to fight - dozens and dozens of wasps.
So why do students opt for bug spray and hammers when the alternative is relaxing in front of a TV for week?
"We're able to be with our friends and make new friends. And there's the feeling that we are making a difference. We see tangible results," Linenberg said.
While students worked from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, there were still opportunities to "chill," according to Lexi Kangas, a junior.
"We stayed at a church and the kids and our chaperones made dinner every night. We did things like organize a talent show and we played games," Kangas said.
Steve Chisnell, an English teacher at the high school, organizes InterAct's relief trips. For Linenberg and Kangas, this was their third year; it was Savoie's second trip.
"This group was good," Chisnell said. "One of the hardest-working groups we've had. What is fun for me is watching the students hang out with new people and make new friends. A trip like this breaks down cliques."
Students find opportunities to be leaders and realize they have the power to be change-makers, Chisnell said.
The students view Chisnell as a role model, someone who is making them aware of the value of service to others. He also goes above and beyond to add extra elements to the relief trips, such as taking students to museums and organizing events, Linenberg said.
"It's not all about physical work. He makes it fun." Linenberg said.
Chisnell said he is grateful for the support of the Royal Oak Board of Education, Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin and Mike Van Camp, principal.
"Year after year, they see the value of service and the trips," Chisnell said.
Learn more about InterAct of Royal Oak
The students of InterAct are hosting a Hunger Banquet tonight at Royal Oak High School to raise awareness of hunger abroad and at home. The event includes music, activities, provocative discussion, and a chance to help more directly.
All proceeds go to OxFam and local food banks. The public is welcome.
If you go
Where: Royal Oak High School Cafeteria, 1500 Lexington Blvd.
When: Thursday, March 13 at 6 p.m.
Admission: $10; $20 for three