Last Fall, American Eagle Outfitters teamed up with Cotton, Inc. to give one AE fan and a friend the chance to give back and help Habitat for Humanity rebuild a house in New Orleans, LA. Entrants submitted a photo of themselves volunteering and wrote an essay about why giving back is important. The winner, Lauren, brought her cousin Shay along for the trip. Read on to hear what Shay has to say about their time in New Orleans!
In the summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore through most of Louisiana, Alabama and much of Mississippi. Over 2,000 people lost their lives due to the storm. It was the United States’ third largest hurricane.
About 80% of New Orleans was underwater by August 29, 2005. Thousands of people who called the city their home had to evacuate their houses, leaving all of their belongings in order to stay alive.
Now, eight years after the tragic storm, many people are still trying to rebuild their lives and their homes.
The city of New Orleans owns about 35,000 blighted properties that were evacuated by owners who never returned, according to New Orleans Habitat for Humanity Director, Jenna M. The city has done a great deal of rehabilitation but has not seemed to be able to catch up to repair the entire city.
American Eagle Outfitters sponsored myself and Lauren Vad to travel from Bottineau, ND to New Orleans on July 22 to help Habitat for Humanity build a home for a family of five. Lauren won a spot on the trip through a Facebook competition. Two AEO store managers, Christina F. of Overland Park, KS and Lindsay B. of Chattanooga, TN, collected the most pairs of AE jeans during their denim drive in 2012 and also joined the effort.
AEO partnered with Cotton, Inc. to collect used denim, which was recycled and made into housing insulation Habitat for Humanity gratefully accepted Cotton’s offer to use the thousands of donated jeans. It takes roughly 500 pairs of denim jeans to insulate a Habitat for Humanity house!
Lauren and I arrived in New Orleans and met with Christina, Lindsay and Marcy E., director of American Eagle Outfitters Foundation. Andrea S. and Marissa B., two of Cotton Inc.’s Directors of Consumer Marketing-Strategic Alliances, took us to the build site the next morning, Marissa and Andrea had worked together the previous year along with two other AEO store managers to do the same thing, so the two of them had some experience with what work we would do the house.
After a quick orientation, we were sent off to start insulating the house. We ripped open the packages of insulation and within minutes we were stuffing denim insulation in between the fire wall of the house’s construction! It took our team of seven roughly two hours to insulate the main floor and the second story of the house. After Faith, the construction manager, inspected our work, we went for a lunch break, but we couldn’t wait to continue working on the house!
Once we arrived back at the construction site, we were put to work laying siding on the back of the house. It sounds pretty simple, but we quickly found out just how difficult it is. For the rest of that Tuesday afternoon, we measured, caulked and hammered nails until it was time to put a close on the day.
Although all of our flights left on Wednesday, we still trekked out to the house early that morning to continue our siding project. Thankfully, all of the hard work had been done the day before, so we quickly got back into a pattern and had half of the back done by the time we had to rush to the airport.
Throughout approximately 10 hours spent helping build the Habitat for Humanity house, we learned many valuable lessons and laughed and cheered a lot. With the help of the Habitat volunteers, a mother, her children and her grandchildren have a home they can call their own.
Though we were able to experience denim insulation first hand, there are many other ways to get involved through Cotton, Inc. Next time you’re about to throw away that old pair of AE jeans with the worn out knees, remember that they could help to rebuild someone’s home. Recycle your old denim and help protect our earth.