Beginnings

As the May 2011 trip winds down, I’ve been thinking about what this trip did for me. I know that I saw so much passion from a group of people I never thought I’d be close to, and I felt so touched knowing how many individuals had a life change this week. As said earlier this week by one of the students, no matter what we do for the people we’re building for, be it painting a wall or putting up drywall, it’s a change. There is so much positive impact that we are leaving here, and that’s a beautiful thing. The best part is that we take some of that home with us, and we hold onto it forever. Some of us will come back; some might not. But we were all here, and we did something that will forever be in our hearts. This trip has given us all opportunities for new beginnings; maybe some will be more grateful for what they have. Some might have inspiration for what they want to do with their live though they were lost before. I feel in my heart that we’ve all done something good for someone else this week. This is less of an ending of a trip, but a beginning to a new way of seeing life, and we can all let that carry us to our next destination.

Ashley

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Remembering New Orleans

Today is our last day and as I was working today I had time to think about what New Orleans means to me and what makes me continue to come back.  One thing I love about New Orleans is it’s people.  Despite the extensive amounts of destruction that Hurricane Katrina brought people come back unafraid to regain their lives.  The people are hopeful, positive, and persevere despite the ongoing struggles that are thrown their way.  From this I’ve learned that it is possible for any person to get through anything.  Another thing I love about New Orleans is it’s culture.  The art, music, and food make this city one of a kind.  To me, New Orleans is like living in a dream where the music is festive, the food is delicious, and the people are proud of their city.  Lastly, I love New Orleans because it brings people together.  Every year I make new friends and meet amazing people within the community.  Also, the things we learn, whether it be heartbreaking or uplifting, are difficult to describe to people who haven’t been to New Orleans.  This makes us a group of people who support each other and help each other grow.  I know I’ll be sad leaving, as I always am, but I’m so glad I had the chance to come down again and work with an amazing group of people who have taught me so much.

-Cara

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Chapters

Sometimes, we see things that captivate and absorb us. These things come at times we don’t always expect. My group had to move to a new house today, which was in a different state from the one we just finished. There was a lot of work to be done, and we were placed with another Wheelock team. Though our house could definitely be described as one in disarray, the home next door, abandoned and skeletal, took me in today. I thought of the fact that this storm happened 5 years ago and yet this home was still empty. It helped me realize that life has chapters for every person, and sometimes doors to the past will never close.  That person’s door had been left open, but they never got back to it. This idea of chapters and opening and closing doors continued into the reflection meeting, where I realized how far my journey with these students has gone and how much they’ve grown. I also realized the trip is concluding and my time here is quickly ending as well. But I don’t feel sad, rather, I feel that another milestone is set and I have more to come.

Ashley

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Hope at Camp Hope

Tonight was our last reflection meeting and it was a great way to wrap up our week by hearing each others’ conclusions of what this week meant to them.  Everyone was given a piece of paper and we had to present our thoughts as the title to an article or blog.  As each person’s title was held up it became clear that everyone felt something similar; hope.  Whether it was the need for hope to continue or the power hope has had in New Orleans, almost every student commented on hope.  As I look back on this week, and my previous trips, I too am reminded how important hope is.  The people I have met in New Orleans, whether they are residents, fellow students, or other volunteers, all have shown hope.  Residents are hopeful that their lives will return and volunteers are hopeful that help will continue.  Without this hope the rebuilding would not be able to continue here and Wheelock would not be able to continue our trips down here.  It is this hope that is changing lives in New Orleans and Boston.

-Cara

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Today we had the opportunity to visit a rural African American cemetery just outside of New Orleans.  This cemetery, like all cemeteries in New Orleans, had rows and rows of crypts.  However, this cemetery was visibly hit hard by Katrina.  Having seen destruction in New Orleans before I thought what more must I see to be in complete shock, but this cemetery left me speechless.  Giant crypts had been moved and opened during the storm, crypts had collided with other crypts, and numbered caskets remained unidentified, crumbling at the side of cemetery.  Even now, I can’t believe that water and wind had the power to move structures that seem so strong.  But it did and it moved more than that, because families are displaced still today and as seen in this cemetery, still cannot locate family members.  Seeing the Mississippi just across the road this cemetery is another reminder how two simple elements have completely uprooted lives for years.  With 10,000 families still waiting to come home, the cemetery reminded me that work must continue to give people back their lives and especially for those who don’t have that opportunity.

-Cara

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We see your love.

House close to finished, today our team said goodbye to the home we’d been working on for the past three days. At the end of our time at the house, we each wrote a note to the homeowner; while writing it I realized I wasn’t sure how exactly to phrase what I felt to her. It didn’t make sense; I know that the people here need help and deserve it, and of course I want to do what I can. For some reason though, the words hadn’t come yet. Later on, we went to a thank you dinner held by a few residents who wanted to thank the volunteers of the St. Bernard Project. They ended the dinner with a video made by the man whose family ran it, and it helped to make things make sense for me. He talked in the  video about his Katrina experience, and how volunteers and their willingness to help made him himself again. Text appeared on the screen reading, “we see your love.” That made it clear to me: to volunteer is to love others who you don’t know and may never meet again, but to love them simply because it’s something we all need. They love us back for helping, and the unseen relationship is one that is felt, which will stay will everyone on this trip forever.

Ashley

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Involve me and I’ll remember

Tonight our group had the opportunity to reflect on what leadership meant to them, which is so important on a student lead trip.  During our reflection meeting I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about leadership but after hearing almost the entire group of students talk I knew.  I thought back to something I read a while back that said tell me and I’ll forget, teach me and I’ll remember, and involve me and I’ll understand.  For anyone who knows me, I talk about New Orleans like it’s my job.  And for a long time I could tell people about it and they would listen but brush it off like it was nothing.  However, Wheelock has given close friends of mine the opportunity to learn about New Orleans.  The class allowed me to continue to talk about New Orleans and get feedback from others whom had yet to experience it.  Finally, my peers have joined me on this trip and are involved in the things that I hold close to my heart and understanding why I am so passionate about the rebuilding in New Orleans.

-Cara

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“You guys are my hope”

Today was a very special day of building. At my house, our AmeriCorps leader opened up and talked with our group, making the atmosphere at our house very fun and productive. We also met our homeowner, who was so excited to see a group of young women making her home come to life: in her words, it was great to see “all that woman power.” We also did a lot of switching of roles today, which made everyone feel really accomplished. The co-founder of St. Bernard project came by as well, and we got to meet her and hear a little bit about her. We interviewed a female Mardi Gras krewe’s creative director, who brought us to an amazing warehouse full of floats and props.  She told us so much about the history of it, and gave us all parting gifts, which was a lovely addition to it. In reflection, we all discussed our days, and one student from a house that also met their owner said she felt touched and inspired by him telling them, “you guys are my hope.” I thought that the sentiment of it was beautiful and hearing things like that is what gets people through. It sometimes does get frustrating, and sometimes we even want to give up, but knowing that you are someone else’s hope gives that little extra bit to keep us moving.

-Ashley

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It’s not the best, but it’s what they’ve got.

Coming together to make a building is quite a feat. Doing so for a real person, with a story and a family, is even more so. Today we began building; we started our day with orientation at St. Bernard project and then broke into our respective groups and headed to our houses. The woman my group was building for had been living in Houston and came back to the city after her son graduated high school. Since, she has lived in over 18 temporary homes while waiting for her own home to be built. We entered the home to find that it was near completion, leaving us to focus on the details, the little things. We returned to camp, and in our meeting everyone reflected on what they felt about their day. One student expressed her understanding for people returning to their homes here, and I thought that the sentiment she shared explained it all: “It’s not the best, but it’s what they’ve got. It’s theirs. “

And throughout the week, I look forward to seeing our group make what they’ve had even better.

Ashley

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Positivity

Today was our first day working with St. Bernard Project and our first interview in the community.  After a quick orientation at SBP we broke off into groups to go to our designated homes.  Each home was at a different stage of rebuilding, and the home I was working on was in the process of installing drywall on the ceilings and walls.  What I thought would be a tough job went by smoothly because our team worked together and remained positive despite the initial trouble we had getting our first piece of dry wall on the ceiling.  The positivity  continued in our interview today with the executive director of a Juvenile Justice program.  The woman we interviewed explained her job, which involves improving the court system for juveniles, and among the horror stories of what these young people experienced there were stories of change and hope that inspired me, and I’m sure others as well.  Later this evening we got the chance to speak with the Camp Hope director, Denise, about her experience with St. Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina, and once again, I noticed her positivity shining through her stories of despair.  Writing this now, I’m not only proud of how my house team remained so positive during a tough day of rebuilding, but how the people of New Orleans that I’ve met today also remain positive during years of rebuilding.

-Cara

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