New Orleans Service-Learning Trip: Day 2 Recap

Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

This morning, the Student Service Program volunteered at the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana! CRCL works to restore the rapidly eroding coastline of southern Louisiana. We were introduced to the organization by a group of amazing staff members, Andrew, Sofia, and Ashe (and Rose!). Then, amongst creatures like frogs, fire ants, spiders, and many others, we built ponds to nurture baby cypress trees that will later be planted in Southern Louisiana. We learned many things — from why the ponds were necessary to how to use a drill to screw the wooden borders together.

Another activity we volunteered for was to pick out trash from their enormous — nearly half a football field in size — pile of oysters. The oysters, once clean and dry, are used to help build and reinforce coral reefs and help cut their erosion in half. After we finished volunteering, we ate lunch from a nearby place, Penny’s Café, and learned more about why the CRCL’s mission was necessary, like how Katrina and the restraining of the Mississippi River affected the coast’s erosion and sediment deposits. We learned how important it is to take care of the coasts, as they showed us a map where nearly eight miles of Southern Louisianan land had disappeared since 1927.

This reminded us how Florida is next, and of why we need to take action!

Broadmoor Improvement Association

As all of the kids finished up lunch at the CRCL, a group of us loaded into the van and set off towards the Broadmoor Improvement Association. Natori Green, the community director of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, appeared from the side of the building as we stepped out onto the concrete. She showed us around the community building and its plethora of community programs, like group therapy, dance classes, and a library. Their karate class won an international championship in Japan, which was so cool to hear about!

Before we headed to our work, Natori told us about how the Broadmoor neighborhood was unexpected declared to be turned into a drainage park in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This problematic mayor didn’t think this neighborhood was worth saving. But to turn things around, we learned that the woman who served as the Executive Director during this hard time for the neighborhood and organization and who helped saved Broadmoor from destruction is now the first female mayor of New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell. You could see the pride from Natori, a lifetime Broadmoor resident, how proud she was of her community and to have a fellow Broadmoor representative as mayor.

We finished our conversation on the walk to the Food Forest, which was overgrown with weeds. We immediately set out with gloves and handpicked weeds for the next three hours. I (Nowmi) used the lawnmower at the front to cut grass that went up to my waist. The roots were deeply rooted into the earth, much like the Broadmoor community. The lawnmower didn’t help with the last few stubborn ones, so I set it aside and set out with gloves to pull them out by hand.

Meanwhile, in the garden, one of our members, Alexandra, actually pulled out two carrots, which put a smile on our faces even against the glaring heat. By the end, there was a significant dent in the garden weeds, and the sidewalk grass was down to our feet! Seeing our progress made us proud and we reflected on how our actions would affect the Broadmoor community today. Through these small but significant actions, we made life just a little easier for a neighborhood that has been through so much. We finally filed into the van with our hands sweaty and hearts full.

New Orleans Mission

After a rigorous and definitely sweaty yet rewarding afternoon with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana organization and a delicious lunch from a local café, we split off into two groups: One being Broadmoor Improvement Association, and another group I (Alenlly) had the privilege of being in, were taken to The Mission.

The Mission is dedicated to fighting the growing numbers of those who suffer from addiction, food scarcity, homelessness, etc. in the very streets of New Orleans. I remember one of the main aspects of this city – besides how lively it can be, was the amount of people who live on the street. It further put into perspective that when we are serving in local organizations our efforts are magnified. The Mission truly embodied this and more for us, those few hours we spent were rejuvenating to say the least. I walked in there thinking we were just going to pack some lunches and didn’t think further about what would actually transpire in us handing them out.

Boy, was I wrong! What truly set this event apart from all places we’ve volunteered at was that the head of the organization, Darian, not only gave us preface of what this organization desires to accomplish before we even set out but also in opening up on a deeper level of vulnerability when expressing his personal background. He highlighted the amount of impact not only he has made but we as a whole can accomplish today. We may have “just” been providing food but even in fulfilling that physical need, Darian made sure to reach out even further, beyond our own comfort zones or fears. He encouraged us to not just hand out the lunches but truly treat everyone as you would to those already in our social circle, an old friend whom you’re catching up with. He advised to give them a handshake, introduce ourselves, and ask them about their lives, all of which seemed nerve wracking at first. That being said, that single act of treating these individuals beyond what society portrays them as – a victim, someone who dug a hole for themselves that they can’t get out of – made all the difference in how these people reacted to us handing out the food.

Mandy Nece relayed a moment where she told someone the simple affirmation of “You are loved” and those words completely shifted what would’ve been a cold transaction.

After a deep discussion with Darian, we got to work further. Having efficiency in mind, we formed into what seemed like a person run conveyor belt when creating a packed lunch. First, we made about 50 sandwiches, which we included in a bag which we filled socks, chips, and cookies. We loaded all the bags up into a shopping cart which we would push around the streets of New Orleans by The Mission.

Then, we handed out the packed lunches. We did not have to look far nor high to find those in need, and what we had to witness today – the rawness of it all was extremely moving. Trash, clothing, tents, shoes, food debris, needles all surrounding where someone could be sleeping only further highlighting the fact that this is their normal. Going up to these people leaving the fear of germs or other in the back of my mind is what we found to realize was that despite their current situation, these people are just like the rest of us. The only exception being they’ve suffered with things in life we couldn’t begin to imagine.

As we delivered the packed lunches, one handshake and conversation after the other, we came across this large group, which we actually ended up cracking jokes and laughing with them. One of the many lessons Darian taught us that day was to steer away from sympathy – but rather focus in on empathy. With sympathy, he expressed it’s like you are solely acknowledging someone for what happened to them and are trapping them into only a narrative of being a helpless victim. With empathy, we are acknowledging what they’ve went through with a level understanding and compassion.

This afternoon, although the heat was definitely on a high, it wasn’t a dry one. A lot of us, including myself (Alenlly), became overwhelmed with emotions over the impact of today and because of the powerful words Darian shared with us. It truly resonated and changed us. After coming away from such an amazing eye-opening experience, we went to dinner at Landry’s, where we debriefed on our biggest takeaways of the day. Once again, many of us replayed our time spent at The Mission, and were brought them to tears in sharing. Even Mandy and Ryan Nece, who also worked alongside us at The Mission, genuinely learned an aspect of volunteering they would like to continue to build on with future participants of this program.

After a wonderful dinner, we walked to a local souvenir store and enjoyed the lively feeling of the city as we walked back to the hotel, admiring the sun set. 

Student Authors

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New Orleans Service-Learning Trip: Day 1 Recap

New Orleans Service-Learning Trip: Day 3 Recap

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