From Aspen to the Lower Ninth Ward
October 10, 2009
ASPEN – Aspen High School graduate Caitlin Doyle didn’t spend her first college spring break lying on a beach with her sorority sisters or skiing the slopes in her hometown. Instead, the Washington and Lee University freshman left the hills of Virginia for a week of hard labor in the Lower Ninth Ward. Doyle, along with nine other W&L students, lived in a New Orleans church for a week in April while rebuilding Katrina victims’ homes. The 10 volunteers were split into three separate groups, and Doyle was assigned a project that helped change a man’s life. The man was a double amputee who had lost both of his legs to a circulatory disease. The city of New Orleans had promised to pay for construction that lifted his house on stilts, but never followed through with the funds. When Doyle and her group met him, the man was temporarily living in a trailer that was about to be confiscated by FEMA. He had a serious deadline. To beat that deadline, in just one week, the group managed to remove all of the old shingles on the man’s house, put down a StormGuard leak barrier, and place new shingles on the roof. Doyle and her group were given a tour of the Ninth Ward and were able to observe how much Katrina affected the area. “We saw that there were a lot of houses like his, and it was astounding to see that even four years later, there was still destruction,” Doyle said.Now in her sophomore year at the small, liberal arts college in Lexington, Va., Doyle plans to continue her dedication to service through the Bonner Leader Program at W&L. As a Bonner Leader, Doyle has committed to doing 900 hours of community service over two years. Her trip to New Orleans was just one way that Doyle has given back to others. Throughout her freshman year, Doyle volunteered twice a week at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic, which provides health care to Rockbridge County residents who are uninsured and live below a certain income. “It’s just like going to a regular doctor,” Doyle explained. “They refer you to a specialist, and once you have been referred, you don’t have to pay.”Doyle spent time answering phone calls, taking prescriptions, getting prescriptions filled, and pulling files on patients. She dedicated about five hours a week to the clinic, for 12 weeks. Doyle is excited about her most recent project. She was accepted into the Virginia Legal Needs Initiative, based at Washington and Lee School of Law. The initiative will document inequalities in the Virginia civil court system after developing research methods to measure those inequalities. “We envision ourselves creating some sort of survey to figure out if a person is represented well,” Doyle said. “We want to hold community forums and get people involved at the grassroots level.”According to Don Dailey, a professor involved with the initiative, Doyle was highly recommended for the program from a Bonner Leader Coordinator who admired her past dedication to community service. Doyle is far from finished with all the things she wants to accomplish. She’s currently applying for an internship through W&L’s poverty studies program. If she is accepted, she will be interning next summer in either a rural Southern town or a large city that has inner-city poverty. “I like doing things where I can see the difference that it’s making, like helping the man in New Orleans,” Doyle said. “I hope that the law initiative provides information to politicians so that they can do something that actually helps improve the Virginia court system.”Melissa Powell is a journalism student at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.