New Orleans Students Donate Time, Resources to Philippines

Barrington M. Salmon | 6/18/2014, 3 p.m.
Students from McDonogh 35 Senior High School in New Orleans will travel to the Philippines this summer to offer support ...
Reggie Evans, the older brother of New Orleans basketball player Tyreke Evans, told guests at the Philippines Embassy in Northwest that he and his family relish any opportunity to give back especially when it comes to education. Photo by Roy Lewis

The young survivors in New Orleans could be excused if they looked inward as they continue to move beyond the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

But on Aug. 22, 20 students from McDonogh 35 Senior High School will travel to the Philippines to offer their support to students there. Last November, super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in history, slammed into the Central Philippines. The storm killed more than 6,200 people and devastated parts of the country.

The American students, also known as the 'Reke Allstars, will be in Asia for 10 days to assist in building a pre-fab shelter for a needy family, take part in a basketball camp, go to school and help families in the recovery.The young people have the opportunity because of a unique collaboration with Operation Hoops Cares, the Embassy of the Philippines, Industrial Bank, the USPhilippines Society and New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans and several of his brothers.

"The typhoon was the Philippines' worst," said Jena Ferguson, creator of Operation Hoops Cares. "It's a natural connection. It's so crazy. People were living in [a stadium] and 80 percent of the schools were damaged. It was the same in New Orleans. The kids will go to school there for one week and those kids will take supplies and they're learning construction and will help build pre-fab structures."

Ferguson, owner and founder of the non-profit Knowledge Speaks and a Manhattan resident, said she just returned from the Philippines.

"It's bad, really bad," she said.

The students, many of whom traveled by air for the first time, visited New York City before they arrived in Washington, D.C. to participate in the June 3 embassy event. Ferguson said she and others in the group met with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who promised to expedite the process so that those students who lost their birth certificates in the hurricane can get replacements and travel to the Philippines in a couple of months.

The students wouldn't be able to make the trip at all without the generous help of Industrial Bank, which awarded the group a $45,000 grant for travel and accommodations.

"We received a Bank Enterprise Award and we committed 20 percent of that on a persistent poverty community. There are none in D.C. So we got in touch with Operation Hoops Cares through Amos Greene," said B. Doyle Mitchell, grandson of the bank's founder and its president and chief executive officer. "Jena told us about this project with natural disasters and the love of basketball. They even have a team named the Pelicans."

"When God puts it all together, this is what you get. … Our real job is helping people. We're a community bank where half of our assets are invested in low- or moderate-income communities. We're proud to support students doing fantastic things."

Ferguson said she worked with Tyreke Evans in New Orleans on a community service project called "Night Out with 'Reke" and they agreed to plan a basketball camp in the Philippines.