Over Christmas break I went down to New Orleans, Louisiana for a week with several other D’Youville students and staff members to perform volunteer work. The trip is called Lending a Hand and you can read more about the history of the trip in my blog about last year’s trip.
Step One: Fundraising!
Last spring I applied for a spot on the trip. Soon after I was selected to join the Lending a Hand Team, we began our fundraising efforts. We sold candles, baked goods, and basket raffle tickets. In addition, we contracted ourselves out to the D’Youville community to perform odd jobs, housework, or yard work. We each raised enough to cover the cost of the trip, but we were responsible for buying our own plane tickets.
The French Quarter
We stayed in a beautiful hotel bordering the French Quarter. In New Orleans there is a large French-Creole population because hundreds of years ago the French-Creole were not welcome in Canada. Settlers traveled down the Mississippi and ended up in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Gumbo, Jambalaya, Fleur-de-Lis
The French-Creole influence can be seen throughout the city and in the cuisine. Perhaps the most well-known features of this influence are gumbo, jambalaya, and the Fleur-de-Lis, which is the New Orleans Saints main Logo.
The French Quarter was an interesting place. It is very artsy and an artist selling paintings could be found almost everywhere. There were also several musicians and street performers throughout the quarter. The food was amazing and we went to Café du Monde at least three times to get beignets.
The Famous Bourbon Street
The French Market was also pretty neat because they had food and tons of cheap goods from fake handbags to tourist T-Shirts. Throughout the trip we had plenty of time to explore the city. During my free time I went on the Nachez dinner boat Tour for lunch and another time I went to Mardi Gras world. Mardi Gras World was neat, but I thought it was a bit pricey because there was less to see than I had expected. I also visited Bourbon Street. It was pretty dirty and full of drunk people all the time, but it was a fun place to people watch.
A Lively Sunday Mass
I also really enjoyed Sunday Mass at St. Jude’s Catholic Church. Mass was one the most moving and powerful religious experiences I have ever had. It was amazing to see all the energy and enthusiasm during mass. I was blown away because I have gone to Catholic Mass all my life and have never seen a church so packed and full of energy. There was a certain unity within the church that was breath-taking and inspiring.
Everyone held hands during the Our Father and everyone sang with all their might during the psalms. The psalms were given a modern tone and had that jazzy New Orleans flair. When mass let out the band played “When the Saints Go Marching In” and everyone joined in and got pumped for the rest of their week.
The Community Safe Spot
The church was the community’s safe spot and refuge. It was there for them during Katrina and it has been there supporting them through it all. They warmly welcomed us and several church members would wave and say hello if they ever saw us around the city. Many even thanked us for our service efforts.
Time to Work!
My favorite part of the trip was performing the service activities. This year we worked at a food bank, a community center, a wild life refuge, and volunteered for Green Light New Orleans. My favorite service experiences were at the food bank and the wildlife refuge.
Round 1: Food Bank
I loved how we made a huge assembly line to sort and pack the food at the food bank. It was fun because we tried to see how fast we could sort each large crate of food. I lost track of count, but I know we sorted at least eight giant boxes of food. And when I say giant boxes I mean at least six of us could stand in the box.
Round 2: Nature Preserve
I also loved working at the nature preserve because we were able to work outside and see some of the Louisiana Bayou. We pulled down vines that were killing native plants and picked up trash that people dumped in the woods. We even got to see a baby alligator! My favorite part was pulling down the vines because they were not easy to pull down. Teamwork was necessary and it was a great bonding experience. It was also fun to pretend to be Tarzan and swing on the vines from time to time.
Round 3: Community Center
At the community center I wrapped gifts for children and scraped old paint off the bathroom door. Green Light New Orleans is an organization in the city that replaces incandescent light bulbs with new energy efficient CFL light bulbs for free to anyone in the city who applies. The Lending a Hand team broke up into small groups and we traveled around the city installing new light bulbs in various homes. Everyone we visited was so grateful and nice.
The Ninth District
The most moving part of the trip was when we visited the ninth district. The ninth district is the lowest part of the city and saw the worst of Hurricane Katrina when the levee broke. Although the area is under construction and a lot is being rebuilt, there are still abandoned homes in ruin everywhere serving as a reminder of what happened nine years earlier. Some of these homes are half burned down because people grew sick of looking at the depressing structures and torched them.
Now It’s Your Turn!
The Lending a Hand service trip was an amazing experience and I highly recommend any D’Youville student to go on it. Applications will be coming out this spring so watch your DL’s for details about an informational meeting.
Have you ever worked with Lending a Hand or a different volunteering organization? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below!