Day 1: On the first day of the trip we arrived at the biggest food bank that I have ever seen and the manager showed us around, he explained where the water level was at the food bank and how bad it was in the last year. He explained where all the food comes from and then we started sorting food and unloading food out of containers, it was great to talk to some of the locals who experienced the flood and how they were still able to help the other families affected.
Day 2-3: During these two days we worked with All Hands cutting and hanging drywall. This was a great experience and we got to meet the home owner of the house we were dry walling and just to see how grateful she was made the whole trip worth it and the long days hanging dry wall not that bad. She was a great older lady and had to evacuate her house from the roof when it was flooding. I am glad we got to have this connection to someone who was there for the flood and got to hear their story.
Day4: This was a short day I worked with the environmentalist learning about how the flood effected the forest and what it did to the environment. We removed unneeded brush and helped clear a walking trail in the forest. Then later in the day we went to an awesome swamp tour and saw where the water level was there during the flood. We then went in to New Orleans and saw some sights and ended the night with a bus ride back home.
When Spring Break is mentioned to college students, not many dream of spending it installing insulation and hanging drywall. However, that’s exactly how 28 of us chose to spend our spring break this year and we wouldn’t of had it any other way. Traveling for 16 hours in a bus to spend four days giving back to a community in need is one of the most life changing things I could of done. The most amazing part of the whole experience was the relationships that I built from it. Not only did I get to form relationships with the victims of the flood and who we were helping, but I got to form relationships with 27 other people that having amazing hearts. It truly takes an unique individual to give up a week of their break and work hard all day for people they do not even know. These 27 other individuals are now some of my biggest role models, cheerleaders, and friends. I never would of guessed that after just one week, I could of formed the bond I did with this group. Even though we are back now, I know that if I ever need anything that these 27 individuals would be there for me in a heartbeat. It is truly amazing and I am so blessed to have gone on this service trip and met such selfless, loving individuals. Alternative Spring Break will be with me the rest of my life. It has truly changed my perspective on life and my heart.
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.
“Fortunate enough to give back to the less fortunate”
This spring break i was fortune enough to take my week and be a disaster relief volunteer in Baton Rouge. For those who don’t know last summer Baton Rouge got hit with the a major flood being the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy. I spent my week in a cabin with other volunteers working in food banks, Schools, and rebuilding houses. Leaving at 4 am on a Sunday gearing up for a 16 hr bus ride could not prepare me for how Louisiana would impact my life. The devastation i saw was nothing i could have prepared for but the strength of the kids i met and the homeowners who’s homes were devastated i was not prepared for their strength in family and community, their resilience and their generosity in time of need. One week was not long enough to help the people in Louisiana the will to stay and help those in need grew more and more as the days went on. While i came home with sore muscles and tired eyes I look back at the full time volunteers who work day in and day out doing the best they can asking for nothing in return. I think back to Shirley who was brought to tears as we put drywall up because now she had walls for the first time since her house was flooded. I think back to the child I met at the boys and girls club who said he has been sleeping with his brothers and sisters on different couches for 6 months because their home was washed away. I expected the early morning, the labor, and i expected to give back- I never expected to take away so much from my volunteering. The callouses on my hands and the soreness in my back will fade but how this trip touched me never will.
The trip was everything and more that I had hoped for. The most impactful moment of the whole thing was hearing the stories of the people we were helping. The house that I helped dry wall on Tuesday and Wednesday belonged to Tara, who had grew up in the house. She told me every detail of her story that she could remember and it made me so sad. Hearing everything that she went through made me realize how much we truly were doing to help. She has high hopes to be back in her house by Christmas, and I truly hope she is.
I had never dry walled in my life so it was fun to learn those skills. I think that the group we worked with, All Hands, is an amazing organization that I can’t wait to go back and volunteer with again. This trip really opened my eyes on how lucky we are, and the things we have that others do not. It made a big impact in my life and I will take the lessons learned from the trip and apply them to my everyday life for years to come.
We woke up around 6am this morning to eat breakfast and get ready to leave for the All Hands Base. All Hands is a disaster relief non-profit that helps communities that have been affected by natural disasters. They are currently helping in Detroit, Baton Rouge, Nepal, and many other locations. We had a brief introduction and then split up into teams. My project leaders name was Paul and he was a very unique guy. He was a civil engineer, but became tried of a desk job so he quit and started to volunteer 6 months out of the year and the other 6 months he worked in a national park. Paul was full of stories and very helpful throughout the entire week. Paul showed me how to drywall properly and how to do certain touch up things. I worked with two other students the entire week and we mostly did touch up, instead of hanging sheets of dry wall. My favorite part of the trip was working at the project sites because it was an instant gratification, instead of a delayed one like at the food bank. I knew by hanging the dry wall I was helping the home owners get their lives back together. A major reason why we were there is due to most people in the area not having flood insurance. Paul described the flood as the “1000 year flood” due to the severity. After working in the house all day we went back to the camp grounds and ate dinner. After dinner, most of us just relaxed and fell asleep early.
After a long 16 hour trip, we arrived at Camp Istrouma outside of Baton Rouge. This was the first service day for us and we went to the Greater Baton Rouge food bank and the boys and girls club at a local school. At the food bank we were first given a tour of the building and the leader told us about how the building was effected by the flood. After the tour, we started to sort through donations and weighed them in individual boxes that would be later delivered to people in need. We listened to music throughout the entire time that the leader had created himself. Overall, this was a very enjoyable experience by helping people indirectly and building relationships with the other volunteers. Afterwards, we went to the boys and girls club at a local school and some of the volunteers helped with homework, but I played basketball with the students. The kids seemed very excited to have us there and we played basketball and other games with them for about two hours. I’m glad I had opportunity to help in the food bank and then meet some of the local children.