Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Andrew Hart went to Niagara University Monday like it was just a normal school day. Except this time, he's not a student.
The 2012 graduate of NU's communications department visited his alma matter for the day to speak about his summer exploits doing his part to get New Orleans recovered from Hurricane Katrina. It's been seven years and the city still hasn't fully healed yet.
"There's still a great need for assistance down there," he said. "There are 8,000 families still without homes in New Orleans and that was before Hurricane Isaac. Now there's probably more."
Hart spent the summer as an intern with the St. Bernard Project, an organization rebuilding homes in the Gulf of Mexico's premiere destination. He worked in an office interviewing families torn apart by the massive 2005 storm, working to tell the stories they relayed to him.
He got involved with the project, which has successfully rebuilt more than 400 homes in New Orleans since the disaster, through the Shepard Alliance, an internship program run out of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Ky.
"It really puts a face to the cause," he said. "This shows people if you volunteer, if you give a donation, this is the face of a family you'll be helping. You can actually see the person affected and why they deserve our help."
Hart's now finished with the assignment and preparing to spend 10 months with Americorps serving as a volunteer coordinator back with the project.
He was on the Lewiston campus to gather support from students to spend spring break this coming school year making a difference in The Big Easy. He spoke as part of Founder’s Week, kicking off a five-day celebration of Vincentian service.
James Delaney, associate professor of philosophy, helps organize the annual event which puts a spotlight on the values of both the Catholic church and St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Vincentian order.
"The hallmark of Niagara's identity is service," Delaney said. "We're trying to connect the Vincentian heritage to the ways Niagara University is involved in service."
Events will take place throughout the week, with a Catholic mass scheduled for 11:10 a.m. today kicking the rest of the week off. There will be some serious programs and some not-so-serious ones, including a St. Vincent de Paul look-a-like contest and a convocation to award its Vincentian Service Award.
But the highlight of the week will be a presentation at 7 p.m. tonight, Delaney said. A free discussion about wealth distribution, open to the public, will provide attendees with several different viewpoints on a topic affecting much of this year's debate.
"We felt wealth distribution was such a hot topic to discuss, with the 99 percent and the 1 percent this year," he said. "We'll have (a member of) our history department, the sociology department, the business school and the philosophy department, who'll present views from their individual department's discipline. We'll look into how these different disciplines approach wealth distribution. We want to do more towards engaging intellectual discussions here to educate people."
The free program will be held in the Castellani Art Center.