Taking it all in

Today was a whirlwind of sights, new knowledge, emotion, and preparation. We began our day with a tour of the bayou in Frenier, and the students all got the chance to see the purity that lives in these bayous; the countless animals and the sincerity in the stories our tour told set us up for a day that would be memorable. From the bayou, we headed into the French Quarter. For me it was great to see some old sights and really feel like New Orleans is a place I know. For the students, the French Quarter seemed to be a place of bustling excitement, as well as a way to experience a different side of the culture here. After the Quarter, the groups headed into Musician’s Village, a housing development that Habitat for Humanity created for low income musicians. Following this, we went to see the levees, and the Lower 9th ward up close. Seeing how many people have returned in the past two years was amazing, but realizing that the many were still few made clear how much work is to still be done.

Tomorrow begins with orientation at St. Bernard Project, and the first day of working in the houses. The real work comes then, as does finally being able to let it all sink in.

-Ashley

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Enlightenment

Today our group had a busy day.  We had a bayou tour and got the change to explore the French Quarter, which included a Hurricane Katrina exhibit.  We also had the chance to see the levees and the Lower Ninth Ward.  The things we had seen today made our reflections not only emotional, but enlightening.  For me, having been here before some of the sights we visited left me with little to say, but hearing everyone else’s experiences gave me the chance to see these in a new way.  I got a new perspective on the sites that have unfortunately become so familiar today.  I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s reflections tomorrow after our first day of building!

-Cara

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the new camp hope

Today I arrived at camp hope to a group of students playing Wiffle ball. The group was Lively after a long day of travel. Once I got settled it quickly became apparent that things had changed. AmeriCorps is no longer here leaving us much more independent. Also the building has been renovated but there is much less crowded. It’s crazy the difference a year can make and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the city has changed tomorrow.

-Cara

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touched down, bags unpacked

We’ve landed, driven around a bit, and made our beds at camp. Considering that we all flew in at different times, the group has come together like we haven’t missed a beat. Tomorrow we embark on a bayou tour, followed by visits to the lower 9th and the French quarter. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow, and the city, will hold.

Ashley

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Hi everyone

My name is Ashley and I am a junior at Wheelock. I’m a visual arts major with a minor in psychology; I’m professionally studying art therapy. This is my second trip to New Orleans. I first went down in May of 2009 with Wheelock, and I am very excited to finally return as a leader. I am glad that this time going back will give me the ability to see progress in a place where I have previously worked to make change. This time, I’ll also be a factor in the experiences of the students going down for the first time, which is something I can’t wait for.

Ashley

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Hello everyone

My name is Cara McAuliffe and I am going to be a junior at Wheelock this upcoming semester.  I’m double majoring in Human Development and American Studies and I was recently accepted to the Child Life Program.  This will be my third service trip to New Orleans.  I was fortunate enough in high school to have a program similar to Wheelock’s that sent students to rebuild for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Upon returning home from my first trip in 2008 I knew that would return but I was unsure of how or when. Thankfully, Wheelock has given me that opportunity.  As a freshman at Wheelock I took the New Orleans Service Learning class and returned in May of 2010. The course taught me so much about the city and its people and gave me new insight through interviews in the community. When I returned home again I knew my personal commitment to the people of New Orleans was not completed.  Now, going down as a leader I will be fulfilling my personal goals, but also helping others achieve theirs, which I am beyond excited for.

-Cara

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Reactions towards the week

This week has been indescribable and has given me more insight on why I continue to come back down to New Orleans. I have seen myself grow as an individual and have come to the realization about what my purpose in life is supposed to be: I am meant to help those who need some help assessing their strengths and other assets, because we all have them, it just takes some people longer than others to come in touch with them. Without New Orleans, I feel that I would still be searching for a purpose and questioning faith all the time. I am so thankful for this week and the project that I was able to do down here. I am excited to see the final outcome and end my senior year (2011) will two more trips back down to New Orleans, because this is where I am supposed to be.
– Megan Douglass ’11

Because I knew that this was going to be my last trip with Wheelock, I originally viewed it as a way to give myself closure to a trip and experience that has been a large part of my growth at Wheelock.  It wasn’t until I came down here that I truly understood how much of an impact this trip has had on me and can have on students and faculty members.  My role on my fifth trip down to New Orleans with Wheelock has given me the ability to step back and observe my fellow students as they question, discuss, debate, and reflect upon their journey not just on their trip but at Wheelock as well.

Thursday night students came together and shared their awakening, their enlightenment, and their growth that they have made while on this trip.  I feel honored to have been a part of that growth and to help cultivate it.  The New Orleans Service Learning trip has great potential to inspire the students who go on it to become the caring, compassionate, enlightened, questioning, insightful, and empowered students that Wheelock strives to create.

This trip is not simply a week-long event in a student’s college experience.  The trips impact on students will carry on throughout their entire lives.  This trip will influence their future decisions, in their future thoughts, and in their future impact on others.  This experience helps students not only understand why Wheelock’s mission is about improving the lives of children and families but inspire themselves and others to fulfill it.  The remarks and reflections made by the students on this trip have inspired me to create a positive change.  Talk to one of them and they will inspire you too.  I know this for certain for I have heard them speak.

-Peter Bartmon ‘10

This past week has truly been an emotional rollercoaster for me. Being a part of the documentation group, I have been able to observe the students, the leaders, and the faculty in a different way that I have ever been able to in the past. For me, this has been a nice way to conclude my service learning experiences with Wheelock, as I have been able to experience the trip in a totally different way. My experiences down in New Orleans have all been great, and from each trip I have gained something new, or learned something new about myself. All in all, this is one of the many reasons I continue to return to New Orleans. However, this trip really allowed me to take a step back and reflect on my learning throughout the years, and truly enabled me to see the benefits of this type of Service Learning project. Not only have I been a witness to great growth within each and every student on this trip, but I have been able to witness my own growth, both in my goals for the future, personally and professionally. My direction for the future is even clearer to me now, and in part, I have this experience to thank for that.

One day away from leaving New Orleans, many emotions are running through my head. I am unsure how I feel about it, but the one thing I know for sure is that I am truly excited to see where this project goes in years to come. The passion and drive that I was able to see within the students this week, is the passion and drive I have within myself, and I cannot wait to see what the future brings!

-Lauren Wilson ’10

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Reflections from the Civic Engagement Group

Reflections from the Civic Engagement Group

            As we listened to the students’ conversation tonight in regards to the issue of showing how much needs to be done still as well as helping others understand why we are here now and why Wheelock has a ten-year commitment to this project, it dawned on us that the video we are putting together from footage, audio, and pictures we have taken could be that medium we have been looking for to address this issue.  When completed, the video will be featured on our blog as well as the Wheelock homepage.  The purpose of this video will be to highlight the passion and dedication the Wheelock Students past and present have had on and because of this trip through the use of pictures, video clips of interviews, and footage of the community we are helping to rebuild.

-The Documentation Krewe

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Reflections from Thursday

The documentation group was well-traveled today. After stopping at the Saint Bernard Project office to talk to Liz McCarthy (the starter of the Saint Bernard Project) we went to five houses, and interviewed AmeriCorps workers, volunteers and a homeowner visiting her house. Two words that Liz attributes SBP’s success to is the volunteers and the community members. She explained that those who come down to help are filled with some compassion and passion it gives the community hope and strength to continue.

While we visited our first house for the day, we spoke to three AmeriCorps members who had been volunteering in Louisiana for a while and talked about the homeowners story, especially of her three daughters who were excited to move back. Three words they used to describe their experience were “refreshing, rewarding and impactful.” Each articulated how excited they were each time a new group of volunteers came down, and the homeowners and community of New Orleans was so appreciative to the difference each person made.

The Wheelock faculty pointed out how through the student run program, it is great to see a different light on students usually taught in a classroom. Service learning was mentioned as a way to connect to the community and tap into a deeper part of themselves and even develop in this way. A service learning trip and environment is definitely a different learning experience than the usual classroom, but as all three noted, students seem to blossom and shine through this trip. The Wheelock mission states the goal of college students is “helping children and families” which many programs, classes and experiences aim to fulfill. The mission of Wheelock could not be more demonstrated as it is in the groups that come down to New Orleans, in addition to learning about the culture, the devastation, the community and contributing through manual labor, Wheelock students are directly helping the families in which these houses we are rebuilding, and also the community and lifestyle of New Orleans.

The New Orleans Service learning trip contributes to the community hands-on through rebuilding houses but and also in a social justice spectrum, using reflection, observation and advocacy is a way to touch on the controversies and issues highlighted in Louisiana past and present. Bringing students down and showing them how one is able to help the community through service and in a real world scenario is how Wheelock prepares the students through professional development to succeed in the real world.

“It’s humbling and empowering at the same time”

Irwin Nesoff (Social Work Professor)

Thursday night is always my favorite nightly meeting, and this meeting was only made me appreciate everyone on the trip even more. We spoke of reflections from the week, stories that moved us, things we noticed changing in the place around us and in ourselves. The question arose of “what next?” and how everyone will spread awareness of the issues still in New Orleans and tell their story of their experiences once they get home. I felt honored to see the changes everyone made and how it impacted their path in academics, their beliefs, goals and ways of thinking.

After the group meeting, we interviewed each house group and overwhelmingly each student reflected on this experience as a “must-do” or “a life-changing experience” which made me feel so proud to be a part in documenting these reactions as well as being a part of this experience. Also, because of our donation to SBP, we were able to create a ceiling tile which will be on display for all volunteers at Camp Hope.

-Stephanie Grover

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Interview with a homeowner

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” -Quote for a mural at Camp Hope

Today was a very special day for me because I had the opportunity to sit down with a remarkable woman and hear about her personal story in regards to Hurricane Katrina and the process it has taken to get her back into her home in Violet, LA. Ms. Smith* is a small woman, with an even smaller spoken voice, but the biggest heart and spirit you can come across. As we sat on her porch and she waved to every car that passed by I instantly knew I was sitting next to a woman whose presence in New Orleans is so powerful, whose home is truly in this place, and this place is where she belongs.

For days leading up to Katrina, Ms. Smith never even thought twice about leaving. She figured this storm would be like any other, and that it was not worth the money nor time to leave. It wasn’t until the day of the storm when Ms. Smith and her children, along with her grandchildren, knew they needed to leave their home. She talked about how she didn’t bring anything with her, and she was dressed in a pair of flip-flops, jean shorts, and a t-shirt. She stayed in the Superdome for one night, and she described that terrifying time and event. She said at one point that she had no idea what was going to be in store for her. Since Ms. Smith was elderly, she was taken in a helicopter to the airport and then was flown to Atlanta, Georgia with some family members. Her daughter was left behind and, unfortunately, passed away in the storm. Ms. Smith had no idea where she was being taken and what to do once she got there. She spent six months in Georgia, but she hated it there. It did not feel right.  As she stressed in her statement, ‘It was not home.”

When Ms. Smith finally made her way back to New Orleans, she came home to nothing. Her house was destroyed, her belongings ruined, and her family was no longer all together. To this day she still has no idea how she made it through that difficult time, but she gives all her credit to God’s guidance. Currently Ms. Smith’s home is on its final stages of being rebuilt and soon she will be able to start her life over again in a place that she knows is the only place for her.  She did say, however, “If I hear that another storm is coming, I am leaving. I don’t care who comes. I just can’t do this again.”

I am so thankful for today’s experiences.  It reassured me about the reason why I keep coming back down to New Orleans and why Wheelock needs to keep sending students down here to rebuild: there are still so many people like Ms. Smith who are waiting to rebuild their lives again and they rebuild with our help.

Megan Douglass

*Name has been changed

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