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Briarcliff Youth Taking Volunteer New Orleans Trip

Project Relief, a group of about 40 people from churches in Briarcliff, Scarborough and Peekskill are sending daily dispatches from their week volunteering in New Orleans. See all the Project Relief stories .

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – Dozens of Westchester students are set to depart from the parking lot of Briarcliff Congregational Church Sunday on a trip to New Orleans.

But they’re not going to spend their break from school at Mardi Gras, they’re headed to the city to help rebuild homes of disaster victims still displaced after Hurricane Katrina. The program, called Project Relief, began five years ago when local Briarcliff youth told adults from Briarcliff Congregational Church, Scarborough Presbyterian Church and Peekskill Presbyterian Church that they wanted to volunteer their time to help the city of New Orleans repair itself from the 2005 hurricane.

Project Relief Director Peter Clements said 26 youth and 16 adults raised about $42,000 to make the trip to spend their entire break from school volunteering with local New Orleans organizations to rebuild houses.

“It’s tremendous that we get so many in our community who want to go down there,” said Clements, who also works as the Briarcliff Congregational Church’s Sunday School teacher. “We ask each of our youth to raise $500 apiece to go and we also get a great amount of donations from caring people in our community. A lot of work goes into this and it’s something they love doing.”

Ossining High School student Andrew Nichols, 16, is taking his third volunteer trip down to New Orleans this year.

“It’s really the highlight of my year,” Nichols said. “ You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to help and that’s one of the best things about the trip is that everyone loves doing the work.”

Nichols said he’s loved returning to be able to see the work the group has done over the years.

“There’s a tangible result in what you do and you get to see that,” he said. “And I think that’s one of the best parts is you get to see the people who are so thankful for the work we’re doing and it’s great to just see the smiles on their faces. It’s so worth it.”

Ossining High School senior Emily Prentiss, who will be embarking on her fourth trip, agreed.

“Going from my first trip to now, there’s a huge difference,” the 18-year-old Prentiss said. “You see fewer blue tarps covering houses and more homes that have been rebuilt. It’s nice to see the progress the city’s been making. It’s really wonderful to be a part of that.”

This year’s trip also marks the fourth for Clements’ daughter, Amelia.

“The city itself is such a personality,” Amelia Clements, 17, said. “I’m so grateful we get to have that experience in high school. I think it’s definitely given us a perspective we couldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

For 14-year-old Briarcliff High School freshman Grace Leeniosi, it will be her first trip to New Orleans. But it’s not her first volunteer trip.

“I’ve been to Nicaragua before on mission trips and it’s always amazing to see the people you’re helping because they really appreciate it,” she said. “I’m really excited to get to New Orleans and do more because I always want to do more for people.”

Check back for updates from the trip.

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