Thursday, our organization had a change of plans. Instead of going back to work with All Hands, we split into 2 groups. One group did environmental work (clearing trails and landscaping) and the second group went back to the food bank. I was a part of the second group and we were joined by a local school for special needs. Our organization only worked for a few hours at each of our locations but the energy given by the students we worked with that day far surpassed any that we had the entire week. Each of them were so excited about everything we were able to do for the food bank. The smiles and laughs we shared with them will always be remembered.
Once we finished volunteering, we took a bus ride to Slidell, LA for our swamp tour. Being able to see such wild animals up close from a small motor boat was thrilling (and terrifying!). From the swamp, we boarded the bus again for New Orleans. We spent the rest of our evening here exploring the ins and outs of the famous Bourbon Street. It was a great experience seeing all of the people and culture of the place where the well-known Mardi Gras celebrations are held.
This was my second service trip to this state and the people of Louisiana will forever hold a dear spot in my heart.
Tuesday and Wednesday we woke up bright and early to be sent to work with a volunteer program known as All Hands Volunteers. All Hands is a non-profit organization that addresses the immediate and long-term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters.
The group I was assigned to went to a woman’s house, Miss Shirley, to install insulation and drywall. I felt comfortable with this job as I had helped install both prior to coming to Louisiana. During our lunch break Tuesday, our site supervisor, Heather, brought us outside and told us to look at the side of the house. On one outer wall of the house there was a water mark about 3 feet from the ground… this was where the flood waters had rested the longest. Miss Shirley’s daughter made an appearance later that same day and showed us pictures and videos of her mother’s house mostly submerged in water. She told us that her mother had lived in that neighborhood the longest, over 20 years, and had to be rescued out of her home by boat. Even though her family was the one impacted and going through these hard times, she offered us some traditional Louisiana food – crawfish and beignet. Her instilled hospitality and need for helping others, even in her own time of need, was something very inspiring to me.
By Wednesday we had finished the insulation and were moving onto drywall. However, our group had another surprise guest when Miss Shirley herself stopped by to see the progress. She thanked us endlessly and promised to keep in touch with us so we could follow their progress on her home. Her daughter has been creating a documentary of their journey from the start of the damage from the flooding to the end of the rebuilding. I look forward to seeing her final video and all of the changes made.
On Monday, our first day after arriving in Louisiana, we were sent to work with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. Marc, who was a general manager of the operation, told us how the flood waters had impacted their business by washing away or damaging a majority of the donated goods. Here we were put to work sorting, weighing, and packaging a large amount of items that had been donated. It was great to see how excited members of our group were to help out. While sorting and packaging boxes can seem like such a small task, those boxes will be sent out to families and people who lost their homes and belongings and are struggling to rebuild their life. Knowing that those boxes can relieve even the smallest amount of pressure and bring a smile to some of their faces makes our volunteer work there more than worth it.
On our last day in DC, our time volunteering was completed. We spent this day visiting the Holocaust Museum along with the few Smithsonian’s we were able to squeeze in. Our groups split up and conquered the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History. Once we finished our tour of the museums, we made our way to Capitol Hill and were able to see the front steps of the Capitol where most presidential inauguration speeches are given.
Looking back at the entirety of our time spent in DC, I learned a lot about our nation’s capitol that isn’t taught or shown in the media. I learned about the affordable housing system and the lack of available shelters, along with the process of supplying the hungry and homeless with their basic necessities on a day-to-day basis. I definitely gained a better personal understanding for those I may encounter in the future who are or who have experienced homelessness or hunger.
On Thursday, the 4th day in DC, my group was sent to Seabury which is a company designed to go to the homes of the elderly who need assistance taking care of their homes – inside and out. Here, we were sent to a woman’s house where we cleaned up her yard and revitalized her gardens. With the best weather we’d had all week, this task was a welcomed one. After we were done, the woman thanked us “Midwest folks” for coming to help make her lawn and garden look beautiful again.
After our volunteer services and reflections on this day, our entire group embarked on a walking tour of the monuments. Our first stop was to the National Mall where we saw the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool leading to the Lincoln Memorial. It was very humbling being in the same place that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his most memorable speech. From there, we saw the World War II Memorial along with the Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials.
Being in our nation’s capitol provided us with a wide variety of learning experiences, both from our volunteering and from the historical sites we had the opportunity to visit.
On the third day, we volunteered at a senior’s long term care facility. Here we were able to interact and converse with the residents. During our stay here we mostly kept the residents company. The employees allowed us to polish the female residents’ fingernails, since that was something they enjoyed. It was a simple yet very fulfilling task.
During this evening, we revisited Georgetown and spent time along the banks of the historical Potomac River. Although the volunteer hours were short this day, any time spent helping others is time well spent.
The second day of our trip, two of our groups went to the Capitol Area Food Bank. Here, we were able to help them re-package boxes of collected food that were to be sent out to different shelters and be distributed across DC. I was amazed at how large the food bank was when we first got there. The size was similar to a mid-size factory, and the amount of food they are able to store inside is incredible. It was a great feeling knowing that we were sorting through food and ensuring that those in need were receiving the best food available to them.
During this day, we were able to see the White House, even though the President was not in, and the National Archives and its documents.
Tuesday evening was my favorite experience of this trip. During my previous ASB experience, there was definitely more interaction between us and those who we were helping. Tuesday evening, YSOP brought our ASB group together with a group of elementary children from Baltimore. Together, we prepared and served a group of the first 40 or so people to enter into the church’s dining hall. Before the meal was served, we were able to sit and talk with each of them and play games with them. I found it very inspiring that despite how down on their luck some of them were, they never spoke negative about anything that they had gone through in their life. To them, everything that had happened, happened for a reason. Many of them still had faith in their beliefs, which is something even the luckiest of people struggle with. They were all very grateful to have us volunteers serving them and waiting on them.
There were no separate statuses in that room; there were no discriminations. Everyone was equal, and everyone was friendly.
Our first day volunteering in DC, my group was assigned to go to Martha’s Table, an organization who works to provide food, education, and opportunities. While there, we were assigned to help with the preparation of the evening meal. It was interesting to know that, although we only had 7 of us from NW and 2 other volunteers from the DC area, the meal we were helping with would feed over 500 people in need. That was an amazing fact to see how wide our impact could spread.
Once we left Martha’s, we explored the area of Georgetown, DC which showed us a glimpse into the upper end of city life. Something I noticed was that almost immediately after crossing the bridge between downtown and the Georgetown area, it wasn’t that the people living on the streets disappeared but that they were well hidden from the main street. After exploring the city, the whole ASB group met at the YSOP church for reflection which was when each group shared what they did and what they learned from it.
The evenings of this trip, our group was able to choose a location agreed upon. Monday evening we made the journey to Chinatown and were able to see some local attractions in the area.