It is hard to really appreciate what you have when you have never known any life any different from your own. I always am so thankful for everything I have and all the amazing opportunities available to me, but I never really understood how lucky I was until recently when I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana for a community service trip that I didn’t expect to have the impact on me that it did.
I traveled to NOLA with 2 of my close friends and a group of strangers as part of a community service trip for teenagers in my area. Although before I left I was very excited and knew that we would be making an impact, I didn’t fully comprehend how much of a difference we would be making in just a short few days. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August of 2005, 10 years ago, so I kind of thought that it would not have so much destruction left because it was such a long time ago. I was wrong. Besides the main parts of the city that were rebuilt, New Orleans and it’s suburbs looked almost as if it had just been hit by a hurricane. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of rebuilt buildings and homes, but it seemed almost as if that number was equal to the homes in shambles.
When we first arrived, we went to a food pantry called Love in Action Outreach, which provides food and clothing and some other items to the community around them all through the help of volunteers. It was founded by Gail Womack-Murray, who herself was impacted by Hurricane Katrina and through the goodness of her heart, while she was even struggling to get back on her feet, helped the community around her. Gail and her staff were very happy to have us help. While we were at the pantry, we did many different things: we helped people find the food they were looking for, we helped Gail in her office, and we sorted hundreds of pairs of jeans by size in a matter of hours (The Love in Action Outreach members had been trying to organize these jeans for over a year). It was really touching to see the difference we were able to make for Gail and the entire food pantry in a matter of hours.
Another organization we volunteered with was NOLA Green Roots. Despite the unusually cold weather for Louisiana that we encountered that day, we had a lot of fun working in the garden helping plant new vegetables and picking lettuce for people to eat. What I thought was very interesting was that because of the high poverty rate in New Orleans, the people who live there are consuming a lot of unhealthy food because it comes at a lower price. There aren’t that many grocery stores easily accessible to the people that live in the city and the surrounding suburbs. NOLA Green Roots is trying to help the community by providing more fruits and vegetables in a place where they’re aren’t many.
We also volunteered with YRNO, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. Personally I enjoyed this day the most because it was the most hands on experience. We helped demolish a house that hadn’t been lived in since the hurricane 10 years ago so that it could be rebuilt by the help of another group of volunteers. This was a lot of fun because it was something I never had the opportunity to do before. I never had used a crowbar and hammer to pull down a house! It was very exciting. YRNO really does a great thing for the community. It was founded by a group of teenagers at the time of Hurricane Katrina who were looking to make a difference in their community, but we’re too young to help. They want to help improve the education system in New Orleans so they buy up these houses that need to be revitalized in favorable neighborhoods and they fix them up and resell them to teachers at 20% below market value. Because of the help of groups like YRNO, New Orleans is almost back to the condition it was before the hurricane.
I really just went on this trip to have fun, and I did have a lot of fun. We were in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and we went to a parade, and we went on a haunted walking tour and got to eat great food and even took a creole style cooking class. But I didn’t need community service hours for any club or anything, and even if I did I could have gotten those in my own community. I never expected to take so much away from it and to have it impact my life so much. I have never seen as much poverty and destruction in my short 16 years (almost 17) as I saw in NOLA. Going on this trip really has allowed me to reflect on everything I have and be a lot more grateful for all the opportunities given to me.