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Appreciative of what I have
How has this experience been? What have I learned?
The experience participating in Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans, Louisiana has been an experience I will never forget. I never imagined that tearing down a house for people less fortunate than I could be so much work. In fact, when we were instructed that our 40 trip members would be tearing down two houses in three days I scoffed under my breath that we could do it in eight hours. I was very wrong.
Pairing with Western Kentucky and traveling to the site in Plaquemines Parrish to demolish houses has been an endearing way for me to spend my spring break. Sure, the lifting, demolishing and deconstructing was sweat-worthy work, but I have come to make friends with amazing people and it has been an experience worth its weight in gold.
Being in Louisiana and working on the Bartholemies’ houses taught me a great deal. Firstly, I am appreciative of what I have. But, of course, this is a cliché takeaway. I believe this trip defines more than just “Service Learning”, rather, “Learning Service.” We did something significant for the Bartholemie family, a family who truly embodies the welcoming and charismatic charm of New Orleans. Admittedly, it was hard for me to avoid discriminating against the Bartholomies because they were so poor. I was caught thinking “When the next hurricane hits… Won’t they be in this boat yet again?” Through reflection I realized the folly of my microscopic analysis. On a macroscopic scale there is no legislation to help people in this socioeconomic situation and what we did here on this Alternative Break is the best option we can contribute for these people.
And so what our crew did mattered. I learned that my two hands can make a difference. It doesn’t matter if the scale is grandiose or miniscule. My difference matters. Yours does too.
A new start
Being a transfer student in the middle of the year is difficult. Starting with a clean slate, living with my parents, and working late nights at a neighborhood pharmacy was my everyday lifestyle once I moved back to Louisville. I spent plenty of nights wondering if I’d ever get a chance to explore the world and meet new people, but never knew how or when I was going to do it. It wasn’t until two weeks before the Alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans that I was blessed to get the chance to travel. My father contacted Gerome about my being able to join the University of Louisville group on an alternative spring break trip. Thank god that he did.
At first the trip was difficult because I didn’t know anyone from both UofL or Western Kentucky, and I became very quiet only to prevent people from disliking my bubbly, wild and energetic personality. Yet by the first day at the work sites I was finally getting to know more people and breaking out of my shell. In a matter of hours I met so many upbeat and motivating people that I couldn’t wait to spend time with. I couldn’t believe the amount of kindness that resided within the hearts of all of the wonderful people I was working with. From helpfulness with taking up flooring, to killer games of spoons until 3 a.m., our bonding moments were incredible.
The one thing that I take away from this trip as a whole is the idea that helping people in your free time is not only moving for the individual but it changes the lives of those you help in the process. I was raised to help people that needed help, my mother always taught me to be a helping hand, and that is exactly what I wanted to do during my spring break. I was given the awesome chance to help others, make a difference, and change the world one family at a time. This whole trip has taught me to be thankful for the things I have, to help when help is needed, and to never take life for granted. Without this trip I would have never gotten the chance to meet so many incredible people with such incredible stories. Thank-you so much for the opportunity and the chance to make friends and change lives.
My experience through the Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans has been something that I will never forget. Tearing down someone’s home is emotionally and physically demanding. However, the gratitude and thanks from the residents and family makes all the difficult labor worth it. One New Orleans resident in particular told us how good God has been to him. He told us that God has navigated him to safety during the multiple hurricanes he has endured and God brought us to help him with the damaged homes. After witnessing the family’s strength through these tough times I have become even more appreciative of the wonderful things in my life.
Starting can seem overwhelming
Today was our first day of service. We woke up at 6 a.m. and got ready for the day ahead. We ate breakfast and packed sacked lunches for ourselves. We drove about 30 minutes to our site and there were two houses. We were told to tear down everything but the support beams. When we started the demolition it was kind of overwhelming because there was so much to do and I just did not know where to start. I started with the inside of the house, where I began tearing down the walls. One would think breaking down a house would be easy. Take a sledgehammer to everything, right? No, it is actually a lot more work and you need to take an organized approach to it. Otherwise, someone can get hurt and it can cause more work. A few volunteers and I took out the entire deck and that was probably my proudest moment because it was easy to see the tangible difference we were making. Before we left, I went to see the levy and it was not at all what I expected it to be. It was incredibly smaller than I imagined and looked just like a small hill. In addition to that, I had the pleasure to talk to the daughter of the 72 year-old woman whose house we were demolishing. She talked about how her family had lived in that area her entire life. They loved living there and even though it had its downfall with having all these storms destroying their homes she said, “I would not want it any other way.” She was so happy and thankful for the work we were doing, and it was so gratifying to know we were able to make such a difference in her family’s life.
Afterward, we went back to take a shower and got ready for the New Orleans Hornets game against the Portland Trailblazers. This was my first NBA game so I was quite excited. The game turned out to be very intense! The level of basketball played was amazing. I do not think I have ever seen so many threes made in my life. The game was very close at the end but the Hornets pulled through and won. After the game our whole group had the pleasure of getting our picture taken on the courts with the Honeybee cheerleaders. Overall, it was a great day of service that really made me treasure life and all the luxuries that I had taken for granted.
Junior biology major
Making a lasting impact
After arriving in the perfectly mild spring Louisiana weather, our first day working on repairing homes was a success! Between the two homes, we managed to haul out most of the dry wall, insulation and other debris. When we broke for our lunch break a small group of us went to walk down the street and see a view of the “Mighty Mississippi.” A man who lives on the very end of the street invited us into his house (which would most likely be considered creepy otherwise), and showed us just how much damage Hurricane Isaac had created. Thankfully his home had been refurnished and repaired, but of course the repairs couldn’t restore the way “home” was. In addition to his kitchen furnishings, which his children donated to him, he had a 3D picture of The Last Supper which makes for a pretty good detail about a story about an old man randomly inviting you into his house. Although it’s cliche to say, the sense of family and community truly runs deep. Even though the cabinets donated from his daughter weren’t brand new, this man was still immensely grateful. Not only that, but he was very proud of all that he had accomplished in the rebuilding of his home in the six months since Isaac. As we worked on into the afternoon cars would honk as they passed by in appreciation of our time and one man even stopped by to give us a 35-pack of bottled water. When it was time to leave for the day it was pretty shocking to see how much we had accomplished (cliche again, I’m sorry). The floors of the house I worked on were literally buried underneath debris and when we left there was only the framing left. Imagining how much time and money this would have required of anyone on their own is quite the reality check. Even with a group of 20 some people we need multiple days just to get the basics done. This is why it’s so incredibly important for those who have the ability to volunteer their time when they can to assist people who need a little bit of help. You don’t have to save a country in Africa from a horrible genocide to make a lasting impact in the world, you just have to be willing to be brave and dip your toe in the pools of opportunity that come along in your life.
Freshman anthropology major
A collaborative effort
Spring Break 2013 will take 40 Kentucky representatives to the Big Easy. We don’t expect an easy week, but be we do expect a rewarding one. Twenty University of Louisville students and I will be departing by bus early Saturday morning to make our way to New Orleans to spend a few nights on the floor of a church and a few days supporting the relief work being done for the still tattered Gulf Coast region. We will make a stop before we even make it out of the state. The bus will stop in Bowling Green on the campus of Western Kentucky University to pick up 20 more students to join in the service. We are excited to be representing Kentucky and luckily we can all proudly wear RED together. No disrespect to those who prefer to wear blue.
The trip has been planned in cooperation with the National Relief Network (NRN). The NRN is an organization committed to bringing large numbers of volunteers to state and federally declared disaster areas for the purpose of helping families in their efforts to rebuild their homes, their communities, and their lives. In February, UofL students going on this this trip took a Saturday to do a more local service trip in Maryville, Indiana. The goal of these experiences is to allow students to see how they can contribute to their own communities long-term and allow them to explore other areas with similar ongoing relief efforts.
The trip will not be all work and no play. We will be spending our last day of the trip exploring downtown New Orleans and taking intentional time to talk about the unique culture present in the region. I am personally excited to down a few cups of chicory coffee and find some oysters on a half shell for dinner. We will also be headed to an NBA Hornets game on Sunday night where the students will be recognized for their work in the city.
While I have never traveled to NOLA with a group from UofL (no, I didn’t see our Sugar Bowl win in person), I have experienced the city with Kentucky college students before. In 2006 and 2007, the spring breaks following Katrina, I was able to travel with over 100 Morehead State (MSU) students to the Gulf-Coast and do relief work. The trips proved to be both challenging and rewarding. As the Coordinator of Student Activities at MSU, I never expected to be so energized by sleeping on a gym floor and showering in FEMA trailers. That wasn’t in the job description. Planning my first trip to a disaster struck region made me want to continue allowing college students explore what their service can do to make the lives of others a little better. While I do numerous trips per year, I am especially excited about this type of direct service.
I would like to recognize Trevor Collensworth, the student director of Alternative Spring Break for his leadership in planning this trip and getting the word out to students. His work on the Engage Lead Serve Board has been much appreciated and added a great deal of value to service opportunities available to UofL students. Heidi Elmer, department assistant, and Lauren Doerner, graduate assistant for Student Leadership, have been key in the planning process. Each of them have spent countless hours organizing, planning trainings, managing paper work, and ensuring that we are ready for a great trip. We have a phenomenal team here at UofL. Hunter Williams, the WKU coordinator of leadership and volunteerism, has been rallying the troops in Bowling Green. We are very excited about the collaboration.
Follow our blog to keep up with student stories and photos. We are excited for a week of service and making new friends. From here on out the posts will be written by students and we will post pictures to help tell the story.
E. Gerome Stephens
UofL, Coordinator for Student Leadership