On Thursday we spent time painting pictures on pieces of wood. Theses slabs would be eventually cover the windows/doorways of the houses that no longer had them. I was really surprised when the Director talked about what he found inside those houses when he was doing a walk through. While people are trying to fix their homes to be move back in, the others that are using the space for illegal activities. It made me really happy to see that United Saints is doing work to prevent this from happening. The one take away I have from this experience is that not everyone is going to be there to help you but you can’t give up. You gotta clean up there mistakes and do what you can to prevent it from happening again.
On the third day of this trip I got the opportunity to work in a community garden in Alger’s Point. This community garden is just now getting rebuilt from hurricane Katrina. The point of this garden is to provide fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs for the individuals of that community. There were vines all over the fencing so we worked hard to remove those as well as moved cinder blocks to help create raised garden beds. This was a really cool project to work on. The site looked entirely different at the end of the day. Seeing such a difference was a really rewarding feeling. While working on this project we got the opportunity to meet this really nice woman named Pam. She had lived in multiple different areas and decided that New Orleans was where she wanted to be. She owns her own Bed and Breakfast as well as a yoga studio. She used to run a landscape company and she said that being able to give back to her community through this garden was something she really enjoyed. Pam was very knowledgeable and seemed very passionate about restoring this garden for the benefit of her community. Through out the day our wheel barrow developed a flat tired and she was able to solve the problem within five minutes by simply asking her neighbor to use his air pig. It was really cool to see how hospitable and friendly southerners are with their neighbors. That is not something you see as much in the Midwest. After the long day of gardening we got to visit Kat’s grandparents and take their sail boat out on lake Ponchatrain. I had never been sail boating before so that was an exciting experience! Being able to see central city and then work in the nicer part of New Orleans was interesting to view the different ways of living in one city. If I were to grow up and live like Kat’s grandparents or Pam I would live a very happy life.
Today we did demolition on a house that caught on fire. We learned that the woman who owned the house lost her only daughter and her dog in the fire. It was a harsh reality to see that one day you could have your loved ones and all of your belongings and the next it could all be gone. But we knocked out panels that’s were burned during the fire, tore out ceilings, tore out termite damaged wood, got rid of old light fixtures that were ruined due in the fire, cut out copper wiring, and cleared the house of old bathtubs. I found the lady’s daughters old teddy bear during the clean up and I really didn’t want to throw it away. But we were making a huge impact on her life by giving her a fresh start.
Everything on the trip was pretty exciting and new but being on the sail boat was probably one of the more fun things we did. I have been on a boat before but never a sail boat! It was good to relax and get to know everyone a little bit better after a long day of working. I only knew three people before going on the trip and now after just five days I feel like I know a little about everyone and I think that just makes the whole group even closer. So I really appreciate Kat’s grandparents for letting us do that. Also I think being in a room with people I had never really talked to before then help a lot with getting to know them. All in all I had an amazing time in New Orleans with the most amazing people and there is no doubt in whether I will be doing it again next year!
Today we went to do painting and garden work at Mrs. Jeanette’s house. Mrs. Jeanette gives back to her community in a huge way by making community gardens to teach people to grow some of their own produce to cut down on their food costs and live a healthier life style. She has 4 gardens in total 3 of which are in New Orleans and 1 in Mississippi where she has a second home. While at Mrs. Jeanette’s we stripped the old paint off the walls and railings and applied new paint. Some of the paint you could follow down to the original paint that the house first had. Then I stopped painted and became interested in the second project that was happening on the porch. She was having student clean bay leaves as a gift to some of the chefs in New Orleans who donated their time to help a local school with a fundraising event and also with helping students with the edible farm at their school as well. Mrs. Jeanette would go to the back of her house and cut the bay leave branches off the tree. Then she would separate the good from the bad in a box where we would clean, dry, and bag the leaves. We cleaned them in a baking soda and water solution, rinsed them in plain water, dried them with paper towels one leaf at a time, and bagged them in bunches of 30-40 leaves. Also she told us a lot of stories as we worked but what stuck out to me was the reason she was donating the leaves to the fundraiser. She said this year she didn’t have the finances to donate to the fundraiser this year and that she could donate the bay leaves (which was about $350 worth of leaves in total) instead. On top of that she had 80 bags to make (we only got her to 60). Then the board looked at the gifts that were given in the past and they thought her bay leaves were the best because it was something that the chefs could actually use and would be more meaningful than a tshirt. It was fun listening to her stories and leaving a new skill because I had never cleaned bay leaves before and I wish we could have stayed there longer.
Today it rained but that didn’t stop us from having projects to do. We first polished the wood in the sanctuary with furniture polish, then swept and mopped the floors, and vacuumed the carpet. We also swept and mopped the floor in the room where we met every morning. Lastly we helped paint wood panels that will go over the doors and windows of abandoned houses so that people can’t get into them and steal things or camp out in them to do drugs. We painted them all with different designs that display some characteristics that New Orleans is proud of. It was fun because I like to paint and then to know we were doing it to help better the neighborhood was meaningful as well.
Early Wednesday morning, we began our day adventuring to West Point to work alongside locals to dig out a community garden that needed a major transformation if it was to be continued to be used to help the community. As I spoke with the head gardener throughout the day, I learned that the garden had been passed through many hands to provide multiple purposes from a learning experience for students to donating back to the local restaurants. In between the last passing of the ownership, the garden’s appearance developed into a messy jungle instead of well-kept garden. The head gardener went on to explain how she plans to reform the garden with the help of a new group of neighborhood volunteers that are excited to be a part of the life of the garden. A few starting out as garden newbies while others contain the need to continue their gardening skills.
In just a day’s work, I was able to see a big difference our Northwest man power was to accomplish that the locals may have taken several days to do without our helping hands. I believe we surprised the locals on how dedicated we were to be there with them ready to get down and dirty to get them another step closer to their dream. They definitely needed that nudge to get the transformation process going. I feel blessed to have the chance to meet the locals and getting to know them while giving back to them at the same time. It gives them that extra light that there’s people out there willing to take time out of their daily lives to help them on neighborhood projects no matter how dirty you’ll get by the end of the day.
The photos attached are from the group of us who volunteered to take on the Garden Transformation challenge.
From only staying in NOLA for four days, this trip has definitely reformed my perspective on how I see and think about life. Hearing about devastated communities that are suffering from natural disasters definitely does not provide you the full justice of a situation. After given the blessing to live near locals and speak to them every day about their personal life experiences gives me more of a clear eye that New Orleans is still greatly suffering several years after Katrina hit. It is a crazy thought that the city or state hasn’t put in more effort to offer a helping hand to its people. The locals that still proudly live in their communities love their city, but I’m not sure if they are feeling that love back. With the presence of us Bearcats being there willingly to put our energy towards helping the New Orleans locals during our own spring break shows that there are young caring people out there willing to take time out of their busy lives to lend a hand to people in communities that need that little push to get back on their feet. As I work back into my daily routine, I’ll keep the personal experiences and bonds that I have created during this trip in the front of my mind using it as a reminder on how it feels to make a difference in other people’s lives in another community. That even the smallest gestures can brighten a person’s day. Each person has their own life story of what they have survived through, and we should be grateful for what we have. I will share the good, the bad, and the ugly to when people ask how I spent my spring break just so they can get a feel of what an experience I have gained and am willing to do again.
On Monday, we were blessed to go on a tour with a fantastic tour guide that was like a human encyclopedia of the past and the current facts of New Orleans. After he guided us through several parishes (districts), we ended the tour in the Ninth Ward. This area was hit the worst during the Katrina Hurricane. Even several years after the natural disaster, the neighborhood has yet to fully recovery. With the help of a celebrity, the ‘Make It Right’ foundation was put into place to help families from this neighborhood, but of course, families have to meet all the requirements to qualify for a Make It Right House. From provided chance to personally see the area, the neighborhood still looks very sad with only a few families currently living there. The sight definitely gets you to thinking how this part of the community hasn’t been given the helping hand to get back on its feet. It encourages me to want to reach out to people in these kind of situations and find ways that I could possibly help them be one step closer of putting their ducks back in row.