Elizabeth Seitz, ’06, just wanted to help. She found a way, inspired by the outreach efforts of the Student Hurricane Network (SHN), newly formed in 2005 in response to the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. A national organization of law students from law schools across the U.S., the SHN provides “relief efforts and rebuilding assistance” to those in hurricane-affected communities of the Gulf Coast. In little over a year, the Network has quickly grown to include over 60 U.S. law school chapters, populated by hundreds of law school volunteers—one of whom was third-year Pitt Law student, Elizabeth Seitz.
Deeply committed to the Student Hurricane Network project, Seitz’s enterprising and empathetic efforts led to the creation of a Pitt Law chapter. Seitz, together with 16 other Pitt Law students from this newly formed chapter, traveled to the Gulf Coast in March. There, they joined with over 700 law students from SHN chapters around the country, dedicating their spring breaks to help those living amid the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. They volunteered with various legal and community organizations throughout the Gulf Coast.
The Pitt Law students collaborated on six diverse projects to help rebuild the communities as well as the lives of those in hurricane-ravaged communities. “Fifteen of us spent a week working in New Orleans,” said Seitz, “while one of us worked in Gulfport, Mississippi, that week.” Seitz worked in the New Orleans Legal Assistance Center (NOLAC), a non-profit legal aid center, tracking down family members—many of whom had been evacuated to other areas or other states—in child custody cases or in child support cases. Other students worked with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to gut and prepare houses for rebuilding. And still others worked with Juvenile Court or on projects concerning FEMA claims.
“To see the level of destruction, to see the effects of this disaster on people’s lives, and to see the unsinkable spirit of the people of New Orleans—it was all very moving. The people of New Orleans were happy to see us and grateful for our help. And we, in turn, were just so grateful that we could be of help.”