Senior Molly Dale and Graduate student Brianna Tiedeman high-five after successfully stacking the corner cinder blocks within the foundation of house number two in New Orleans during their Alternative Spring Break Trip.
Beyond the humidity, there’s something in the air that feels like soul.
In addition to the non-stop jazz music and the Mardi Gras beads, Hurricane Katrina aftermath and triumph adds to Louisiana’s culture and spirit, especially in New Orleans.
As a journalist who knows the importance of timeliness, why am I writing about something that happened in 2005? The answer is heartbreakingly simple, and it is that the residents are still living in poor conditions and in houses that were never fully renovated, 11 years later.
Organizations like Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans (RHINO) and the Salisbury University Volunteer Center are still helping, so writing about my Alternative Spring Break trip to NOLA is the least I could do to help.
Travesty struck Louisiana in 2005, when many of us were young nuggets enjoying being off school for a rainy day, letting the strong winds take our basketballs away. But residents of the Gulf Coast were facing a different reality of a “rainy day,” as the largest storm to ever touch down in the United States single-handedly robbed them of their homes, their cars, their food and even the confidence in tomorrow.
Twenty-feet underwater in some areas, infrastructure and architecture were bound to be destroyed. But like the first sentence implies, their soul certainly was not.
During our time in the Big Easy, every minute planned by SU’s Volunteer Center graduate assistant Samantha Beck, 24 SU students, faculty, and staff helped eliminate invasive plants, create new tree-life, and served as ‘temporary’ construction workers on two different houses – emphasis on temporary.
A striking concept under the umbrella of rebuilding hope is that not just the volunteers are involved in the rebirth of New Orleans, but the family members who survived and returned are too. Committing to live in NOLA after seeing it in absolute turmoil is one thing, but to be a part of the reconstruction, stick to your grassroots or hometown, and see the milestones of progress one city can make – that is soul.
There are a few takeaways when you go on an Alternative Spring Break and volunteer your time for others –the first one; you gain personal perspective, some self-respect and positive culture shock.
The second takeaway is global perspective. Every day I catch myself whining about writing a paper that’s due in an hour or my neighbors taking my parking spot. Mind you, these trivial pursuits really get you down in those moments, but they are microscopic compared to the catastrophes that sometimes we do not even know about.
The third? Fun! Another college from Maryland which I may not name was on the house sites with our group and they were a little something like… competitive. Over volunteering? Chill guys. This group had been coming to New Orleans for a few years and did not get along. Our group of 24 people bonded on the plane on Saturday morning and never had an inkling of disagreement, despite some ‘challenges’ we encountered on Bourbon Street.
For the most part, what happens in NOLA stays in NOLA, but we built houses for a cause, did yard work for a cause, and took in the culture and air of the city, no matter how weird it smelled. And none of us will ever forget it.
The obvious takeaways are education and experience, but if you ever get the chance to do an Alternative Spring Break, do it – you will gain so much more. No regrets.
Shyness can ruin so many good opportunities. Let the residents of NOLA and the SU students tell you first hand, your soul will thank you.
- Volunteer Center GA Samantha Beck for being the ‘real’ SU representative.
- Geosciences professor Keota Silaphone for engulfing herself into the roof.
- Foundations Accounting Associate Janae Fontaine for dealing with the aftermath of the night-owls.
- VP of Student Affairs Dane Foust and Career Services Associate Director Charlie Endicott for guiding us in all of our endeavors.
- All 24 for us for working so hard and learning so much in just a few days.