Lending a Hand is an annual week-long community service trip, held over winter break, to help a community in need. The trip is sponsored by D’Youville’s Campus Ministry and is planned by student leaders who are veterans of the trip.
Each spring, students of all majors are encouraged to apply for one of thirty spots. The most well-rounded and service-oriented students are chosen. Once the Lending a Hand team is chosen in the spring, fundraising begins, which keeps the costs down for the students and make it possible for them to participate.
Many students, including myself, have always assumed that the service trip was born in response to Hurricane Katrina, which happened in August of 2005. However this is not the case. The first Lending a Hand trip to New Orleans was in 2004, one year before the hurricane hit. The reason New Orleans was chosen as the service trip destination was because the costs were affordable for students, and it’s a warm climate with lots of need. Students on the first and second trips helped a variety of agencies including homelessness assistance, AIDS residents, hunger centers, and other organizations including United Way, and several schools. After Hurricane Katrina struck the city, the trip’s focus and efforts have turned to cleaning up and rebuilding New Orleans.
D’Youville’s first post-hurricane trip was in 2006 and the group was among the first hoard of clean-up crews in the area. Reverend Jan, the associate campus minister, who has been around since the trip’s inception describes the 2006 service trip as “extremely emotional.” One of the most emotionally tough things the group did was clean out a house with its residents. They had to throw out everything including ruined photographs and other sentimental belongings.
In 2007, Lending A Hand returned to New Orleans, thinking there had been some improvement in the state of the city, but it looked the same. One could barely tell that clean-up efforts had been made. Gradually, over the following years, the group got involved in the rebuilding process. However, there were and still are pockets around the city that continue to look the way they did right after the hurricane. Although the service trip is held in the same location every year, each trip is unique. To learn about last year’s trip check out Jordan’s blog. Below is an interview with Maria, who went on this school year’s trip.
Why did you want to go on the New Orleans service trip?
Several people who went on the New Orleans trip in the past told me it was a great experience and that you get to meet a lot of new people and make many connections with people. I was told that it was a great opportunity to help others.
What kind of fundraising did you do prior to the trip?
We did a lot of fundraising. There was hire a hand where people from the D’Youville community could rent a group of students and have them come to their house to do yard work or complete a project. There was a Yankee Candle sale and Café Parlé. We also did raffle baskets.
What were your expectations for the trip?
I actually wasn’t expecting a whole lot. I thought I was going to make new friends and have a good time. A few months before the trip I was debating whether I should actually go or not. I considered taking myself out of the trip, but I ended up going and having the most unbelievable experience. It was an experience that I could have never imagined.
What did you do in New Orleans?
The first day, Wednesday, we arrived and got settled in. Thursday, Friday, and Monday we worked with Greenlight New Orleans. The organization works to remove old light bulbs and replaces them with energy saving CFL light bulbs. Saturday we went to St. Jude’s Community Center and we helped them serve lunch to members of the community who were homeless or unable to afford their own meals. Some of us sang Christmas carols for them and some of us talked with them.
How was your experience at the community center? What were your interactions like with the people?
We really got to interact with the people and hear their stories. It was right around the time of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I was talking to one man and he was telling me how he lost his house in Katrina and he hasn’t been able to get back on his feet, but he was just so grateful for everything he had. It really made me appreciate the things that I have here. He was in a soup kitchen and he was incredibly grateful for the beans, hot dog, and chips he received. He was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so thankful. This is just amazing! I feel so bad for the people who are in Connecticut.” He went on about that and ended up crying and it was a very emotional experience. Everyone there was in good spirits about everything.
How does it look in New Orleans today? Can you still tell that a massive hurricane had struck the area?
The lower ninth ward is where Hurricane Katrina hit hard because that is where the levy broke and all the water flooded. There are more houses being built in that area, but there are houses that still sit destroyed. In one house the entire inside was stripped away. There is still damage down there, but it’s slowly getting better. It’s a growing process.
What did you learn from fellow students on the trip?
I learned that anyone can come together to work towards a common goal.
What would you say to students considering the lending a hand service trip?
I would definitely tell people to sign up. See if it is right for you. I am so grateful that I ended up going on the trip. I didn’t think it would change the way I think about things because I went on a mission trip a few months before in August, but it did. I learned a lot of things about myself, people, and service. Service can come in all shapes and sizes. If you do want to help people and that is your main goal than I definitely suggest going. You will meet new people, become closer to people, and help people. You actually see the changes.
What did you do besides service in New Orleans? Did you do anything for fun?
On Sunday we went to the Super Dome for a Saints game which they won by a lot. Since we stayed in the French Quarter we were able to walk around when we had free time and that was a lot of fun. We went through the French Market. We went to Mardi Gras World which was great because we got to see the floats. Another group went on a haunted walking tour and another group of us went on a carriage ride.
For students interested in participating in next year’s Lending A Hand trip, keep an eye out for an e-mail from the DL Manager about an informational meeting. Applications will be available in the campus ministry office on the first floor in the KAB.