New Orleans volunteer trip---straight from the Nawleanteers
The morning that I left to New Orleans
I was upset that my flat iron broke and that I had ran out of coffee.
After visiting the Southern city, I feel ashamed for complaining, when
at just one time of my 23 years of living, those luxuries were not
accessible. My time in New Orleans with College Students for New Orleans was a life-changing experience, to say the least.
had always been a volunteer for some sort of non-profit organization,
but I had never experience such heartache until I joined CSNO. Ignorant
to what was happening there I thought the city was nearly close to
recovery. And, to explain the feeling of disappointment, sadness and
anguish that came over me when I saw what Katrina had done is
unfeasible. To explain how I felt to drive
through neighborhoods and see endless rows of damaged homes is not
viable. And, to explain what the citizens of New Orleans told me about what they went through – it was completely distressing.
I also experienced other feelings. I worked with children who were so
energetic and lively. I saw them get excited over things that I would
take for granted, like ice in our drinks on a day exceeding 110
degrees. I also experienced Southern hospitality - Our neighbor told us
to help ourselves to anything in his house, he left his door wide-open
and I was happily greeted by everyone I encountered walking down the
street. And, after all the New Orleanians went through, it was amazing
to see so much hope, that life would get better soon. Their hope gave
me assurance that, although not much has been done in two years, the
city can still be restored to its magnificence.
that assurance made me work harder throughout the week we were there.
Whether we were gutting a house, working with children or cleaning out
the cages of the rescued animals, I knew that what my group and I were
doing was something spectacular – that we were part of their reason to
hope. I can't say that my week there actually made a difference; after
all, I can't read the minds of the Katrina victims. But, I can say with
certainty that I plan on returning to the city every chance possible
until I do.
The Summer 2007 Nawleanteer trip was my second time to New Orleans
in 4 months. The first time I volunteered for a week, and for this trip
I went early before the large group to make it a 4-week trip for me. I
had previously been exposed to the devastation, distress,
disorganization and despair in my first trip to New Orleans. However, on my second trip I really saw what makes New Orleans
so magnificent, magnetic and magical. I saw why even though Katrina was
an immense hurricane and the likelihood of another one to hit is a
constant, the people refuse to leave. The people of New Orleans are deeply passionate about their city, their food and their music, amongst other things. I felt this love and passion for New Orleans when I was living there for 4 weeks preparing for our group to join us in New Orleans. At the same time that I was absorbing the New Orleans culture, I was also exposed to the bureaucratic chaos. My experience is a metaphor for the lack of good leadership in New Orleans.
mid-July I originally intended to volunteer for the three weeks prior
to the Nawleanteer 2007 Summer Trip in early August. Yet, upon my
arrival there was complete disorganization and the picture that had
been painted to me of a bustling fully functioning non-profit
organization (fortunately, this organization no longer exists) was just
an illusion. So, I was in a position where I needed to organize a
one-week trip for 12 Nawleanteers. We persevered and had an incredible
The cliché phrase of "out of sight, out of mind" continues to reappear when I think about New Orleans. I hope that as more time elapses from when Katrina hit New Orleans
that more people don't forget about the tremendous need for help. The
need for help is immense and it takes a unified effort on all levels.
Words can not express the lessons of my time in New Orleans. Inadvertently, New Orleans has changed my life and inspired me to be a part of the rebuilding process in my fullest capacity. I am convinced that New Orleans is one of the most important cities in the world and it is important to restore it.
I was seriously unprepared for the emotional distress I was about to embark upon when I went to New Orleans. I
had been planning on going on this trip for a few months prior to
departure, and I had been reading up on the state of rebuilding and
other efforts that were underway to get the city back on its feet. I had learned about the 9th ward, the superdome, and the amount of damage that the city had received. Although
this all affected me, upset me, and got me talking to others, nothing
affected me as much as actually SEEING the devastation first hand. Driving
around Lakefront and the Lower Ninth Ward, even driving through
Uptown…I was able to feel, empathize, visualize what it might have been
like for these people who were dealt such a severe hardship. After putting myself in their shoes, I felt that there was nothing I could do besides give my all when I was working. House gutting was amazing. Just knowing that I was helping a family save thousands of dollars of rebuilding was awesome. Another project we had was walking dogs at the animal shelter. Now,
I was used to shelters that would euthenize their animals after a
certain amount of time, however, this particular shelter did not. I
was astounded by the amount of work that the owners of the shop put in
each and every day to keep these animals alive and safe. I was so fortunate to partake in all the projects in New Orleans. I really felt like I made a difference in someone's life, although I didn't meet that person. Not only that, but by helping a few, we were really helping whole communities. Nobody wants to go back to a ghost town, there needs to be a group effort. I love New Orleans as a city, and I love the people that live there. Never have I felt such strength resonating throughout a city…it was very emotional, very reassuring, and very uplifting. I can't wait until our next trip!
first thing that hit me was the heat, but that was expected. That's
where my expectations stopped. When I signed up to do the volunteer
trip to New Orleans I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. I'd never been to New Orleans
before and everything I read and was told, told me that I needed to go
see it. A week of volunteering sounded like a great option.
first few days we spent getting acquainted with the city, the area we
were staying in, and each other. While the group had held a couple of
socials before the trip everybody was still kind of feeling each other
out, plus there were some new people that none of us had really met
before. I had my reservations going into the trip about if everybody
would actually work, if everybody would get along, and I hoped that my
week in New Orleans
didn't turn into an episode of the 'Real World'. It didn't take long to
realize that the group of people on this trip was better than I could
have asked for. They worked hard, they didn't complain, and they stayed
positive and upbeat even after eight hours of tough work. They were
flat out a great group of people and I'm better off for knowing and
working with all of them.
as a city really is someplace that everybody should see. It's an
amazing place. From the mansions of the Garden District to the French
Quarter, to the nearly deserted and eerie Lower Ninth Ward, the people
and the food, the sites, sounds, smells, the entire city is an absolute
experience. From the Maple Leaf Bar to Café Du Monde, to the
dilapidated abandoned houses still in need of so much work, the city is
amazing. On top of all this we got to help people. From house gutting
and mucking, hard work but worth every second, to landscaping,
rebuilding, painting, and working in an animal shelter, there was no
shortage of work that needed to be done.
rare that you get to have an experience like this. The combination of
seeing an amazing city, helping people, and helping a city rebuild was
an awesome experience. The people of the city know why you're there and
they're extremely thankful for it. These trips make a difference, plain
About a month before I left a family came into my work from New Orleans.
When I mentioned I was going there to volunteer and asked for some
advice as for what to see and do they were more than happy to give me
all kind of great ideas. As they left my work their young son came up
to the counter, looked up at me with a big smile and said, "Thank you
for helping New Orleans!"
I didn't realize it at the time but that set the tone for the whole
trip, a trip that I'll certainly never forget and urge anybody that has
the opportunity to do also.
- Jon-Michael La Pierre
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