I can’t not have music in a post about New Orleans, so this is required listening (don’t worry, there will be more): [spotify id=”spotify:track:7t82C8zQJKXMCZAq67wxvV” width=”300″ height=”75″ /]
I had the incredible opportunity to go to New Orleans last week as an adult leader for the St. Mark’s youth mission trip. The city–and the kids–were amazing and more than I could have ever dreamed of. Though I am desperately seeking a minute of sleep, I couldn’t have ever asked for a better first time to NOLA. A huge thanks goes to Marcella for organizing it, looking out for the kids and the leaders, and having faith in me!
We arrived on Sunday afternoon, and after orientation at church headed down to the French Quarter. The church we were working with, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, is very into social justice and reaching out to the community, which I think struck a chord with all of us on the trip. None of us were from the poverty-striken backgrounds like the kids we would be working with throughout the week at camp, and the work the church was doing was really inspirational for us all. One of the most–shocking I think would be the right word–parts of the church was the banner on the front listing all the names, ages and causes of murders in New Orleans since the beginning of the year. It was eye opening for all of us–just as it intended to be.
The house we were staying in, Dodwell House, is in the Treme and is owned by St. Anna’s, which is working on turning the house into a school for at-risk children in the area. Very cool! We settled into our slave-quarter living (not kidding, we were actually staying in the probably-haunted-former-slave-quarters of the house) and drove into the quarter–Vieux Carré– where we had some time to walk around before dinner. The houses were gorgeous, the air was sticky, and we just caught the tail end of the NOLA Pride celebration, with remnant banners and flags still hanging from balconies.
Why I Went
Back in January, I went on a St. Mark’s 20s/30s retreat with Marcella, the church’s youth director. It was at the retreat that I realized that the service I really wanted to give the church involved the youth. Not only are they closer to my age than many others at the church, they all remind me of my brother and sister–so smart and so driven (and sometimes really opinionated). I didn’t have the opportunity to go on a trip like this when I was in high school, so in some ways maybe it was me trying to make up for missed experiences (connections? hehe).
I went into the trip with probably about as much knowledge of New Orleans as the high schoolers, with the exception of a few stories I had heard about Bourbon Street in college. To prepare, we watched Faubourg Treme, a documentary about the neighborhood where we would be staying, and read Zeitoun, a book about a man who stayed in NOLA through Hurricane Katrina. When Katrina hit, I was about the same age as most of the kids on the trip, and with no ties to the city I didn’t really understand the impact of the storm until we were preparing for the trip. It is insane to me that an entire city was left with no resources for so long, especially a city with such a deeply rooted culture. Seeing the damage that still exists in the city nearly a decade later is more than unnerving–it is heartbreaking.
We had a week full of varied activities, from gardening to de-molding houses to touring. On Monday and Friday, we worked with a very cool organization called the St. Bernard Project, which was actually started by a couple from Washington. We went into our projects headfirst, starting by de-molding, shockwaving and priming an opportunity house in the ninth ward. It was hot, unventilated, and we were wearing respirators, so we were thrilled when the afternoon rain came in. Opportunity houses are those which have been abandoned since Katrina and are renovated into affordable rentals or ownerships for families in need. We worked on another one of those houses on Friday, this time taking the next step by finishing up a Kils primer and pulling vinyl siding from the side of the house. These two days were by far the most labor intensive we had! And also, these days are probably where the majority of my sunburn came from…as it turns out, I was so busy making sure everyone else had sunscreen on that I didn’t put any on myself.
Tuesday, we spent some time gardening at Dodwell House before heading over to Christ Church Cathedral for St. Anna’s summer camp, where we also spent Thursday. The kids at the camp definitely have big personalities! We were able to spend some time reading with the kids and crafting, with the goal of instilling–if fleetingly–a desire to learn and read. No, we weren’t going to move mountains in just a few hours, but we were hoping to plant seeds.
The final project we were working on was with Parkway Partners at a community garden in mid city. My favorite part about this project was being able to see a significant change in the garden from beginning to end and meeting people from the community who stopped by to see what we were up to. A man whose motorcycle garage was next to the garden came over to help us sweep and show us how to use the tools properly. Another man came over to see what we were doing and told us how much of a need there was for a garden like that in the city. The particular garden we were working on had herbs and some vegetables and was intended to become a bee habitat–lots of flowers everywhere!
Of course we didn’t work the whole trip. I have so much to say about the food and the culture and the music of New Orleans that that will be in its own post…which you can read here 😉