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Blog for Thursday

This Is Why We Volunteer

Wow, what an amazing day! The house we've been working on is an opportunity house, which means it doesn't have a homeowner. I think the idea of building houses for those who didn't have one before the storm is a great idea. Still, I was a little disappointed to here about all of the other groups getting lunches like jambalaya and gumbo from their homeowners and hearing amazing stories from five years ago and beyond. Yesterday made up for our lack of a homeowner completely! We got to witness the welcoming home of a homeowner! This week is Americorps Week so it was a huge deal. We were surrounded by Americorps workers, other volunteers, and, of course, the homeowner, Amelia. It was awesome to see the look on her face when she cut the yellow ribbon that symbolized her entrance into a new home and new life. I am more than willing to admit that I cried like crazy when she thanked everyone for helping out. Not only was it incredibly joyful to see someone get their home back, but also to see a huge group of volunteers with bruises, scratches, bug bites, and the biggest smiles I have ever seen…it was so uplifting. This was definitely the highlight of my week.

Back To Work
Yesterday was a pretty relaxed day of work. We had to clean around the house because there was paint everywhere! We played our part as Cinderella for a day, scrubbing away paint and washing the floors. We really got to know our team leaders, Julia and Steve, yesterday. We swapped funny stories and talked about our favorite movies. Julia and Steve have been so great to us. They never got angry when we messed up or needed a break and really emphasized the "fun" part of volunteering. Needless to say, it was fun!

Rock and Bowl!
And as if the day wasn't enough fun already, we spent the night shopping in the French Quarter and bowling/dancing at Rock and Bowl. I've never been to a place that had both. It was perfect! Scott and Mike were awesome at bowling, but the girls definitely had their moments. After bowling, we got on the dance floor and busted some Southern moves. We might have been the youngest people on the dance floor, but it did not show. People were dancing the night away! Linh found the cutest little boy ever and let him dance and bowl with us. He was quite the dancer. And Danielle got to dance with an older fellow named Jimmy. The hospitality and liveliness of New Orleans have made this trip so much fun! I am definitely coming back!

Who dat!

~Emily Byron

New Orleans: The City of Hope

At 7:30am on Wednesday, we pile into our van and drive a few minutes away. When we get out of our car, and you can already feel the damp heat descending upon New Orleans, with the sun making its way through the clouds. We climb up a steep slope and sit ourselves on a wooden platform that overlooks what appears to be a wasteland; it is the remains of the once healthy and diverse Logger Bayou, a mix between a swamp and marsh. Unfortunately, due to human-made canals built in the eco-unfriendly 1950s, salt water infiltrated the fresh body of water and virtually destroyed the ecosystem and its inhabitants. The water, once filled with trees and marsh grasses, is now marked with only a few small Cypress trees that appear to be dead anyway. Over the years, Logger Bayou has made its own adaptations, along with the help of environmental activists, in order to slowly work toward becoming a productive area once again. Sister Judy and Lindsey, who work for AmeriCorps, share with us the sad history of Logger Bayou. Its fate is uncertain with the present oil spoil, which may create disastrous consequences for Logger Bayou and the surrounding bodies of water in the area, which are already disappearing at a rate of a football field-sized area every 38 minutes. However, with the inhabitants of Louisiana still recovering from the damage Hurricane Katrina, wetlands like Logger Bayou and its preservation are not exactly the first thing on everyone's mind. It quickly became apparent that, while man may cause damage to the environment and themselves with ease, man cannot always find a way to make repairs with the same effortlessness that was used to create it in the first place. We were overcome with a sad realization on that overlook, knowing that, not only are New Orleans citizens struggling daily, but the environment is struggling as well. Neither are receiving the attention and help that they deserve. Hearing the all of the problems that Louisiana is facing is one of the most humbling events I have ever experienced. Sitting there, I felt almost helpless, unsure of what I could do to help and make life a little better for New Orleans' people and animals alike.

And then as we all got back into our van and drove away from the bayou to go to our work site, I remembered that I WAS helping. All of us volunteers are. Even though we were mostly just scraping, priming and painting the soffit and molding of a house's roof, which may not seem like a large amount of help considering the amount of work that needs to be done, every little bit truly does help. We worked for our usual 8:30am to 4:30pm shift, immediately scurried to the showers after, and got dressed and ready for a fun night out on the town.

We went to "Wednesdays on the Square," which I have officially deemed one of the coolest events I have ever been to in my life. On this grassy square block in the middle of town, there are white tents everywhere, with vendors selling paintings, photographs, t-shirts, hand-made jewelry, coasters, and any other souvenir you could imagine. On the outskirts of the Square, different restaurants from New Orleans each had a tent selling their most famous and award-winning dishes. We consumed all kinds of food, from melt-in-your mouth banana and nutella crepes to spicy southern-style rice dishes to your standard nacho chips and guacamole. After gathering our delicious treats, we made our way over to a huge crowd in front of a stage. A band called "The Dirty Dozen" was playing some upbeat, toe-tapping music that had everyone dancing. We were all in a musical eutopia and thought life could not get any better, but then all of a sudden several of the Saints football players came out on to the stage and get the crowd going with the Saints' cheer "Who Dat?" (meaning, "who dat's gonna beat the Saints?"). As we were chanting the mantra of the Saints and swaying with the locals, I felt a sense of unity surge within me. Before this trip, I had never been to New Orleans, and yet, somehow, I felt like I had been a part of and welcomed by this city by the sea all of my life. New Orleans has a magical quality to it; no matter who you are, or where you from, or what you want to do, New Orleans has something for you to make you feel right at home, and urges all to kick up their feet and relax after a hard day's work. They know that progress requires determination and dedication, but they also recognize that we all should also make the most out of our lives, and that family and friends and having a good time are an essential ingredient to a happy and healthy life.

Our group leader Rita's friend Sarah also joined us for the concert (along with our favorite 6'10 gentle giant Scott, who works with us on our house). After The Dirty Dozen finished their set, Sarah took us to a local restaurant called "Mother's" and we had a fantastic New Orleans-style feast. Sarah works for JJPL, an organization that deals with social justice for juveniles in New Orleans. She works with and for the youths, fighting for better laws that will help all, and also help the troubled ones rehabilitate and one day lead a productive adult life. The stories she had were a sad reminder that, even though we just came from a hoppin' concert in the city where life seemed grand, there is still much work to do, and that no, not everything is alright in this beautiful city.

I feel like the schedule of our day followed the thought process of the New Orleans people. First, you are presented with problematic situations (Logger Bayou and Hurricane Katrina damage, etc.), followed by working long and hard with determination and pride to help ease these problems in any way you can (rebuilding at the site). After a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, you then remember that you only have one life to live, and while, yes, you need to work hard to make the world a better place, you also need to take a breather to keep yourself in check; sometimes you just need to eat some good food and dance around like a fool with your family and friends, all while remembering the work that still needs to be done (going to concerts followed by talks with social justice workers). Making yourself mentally healthy and filled with joy is an integral part of recovering from disasters, because your cheer and enthusiasm will inevitable spill over and start to seep into the minds and hearts of those around you, creating an infectious and steady overflow of hope.

Hope. That is certainly one of the biggest elements of New Orleans and its citizens. I now understand where our temporary home, Camp Hope, gets its name. The people of New Orleans are some of the most resilient I have ever seen or heard of. They love their city, its food, its sights, its sounds, its people, as well as the tourists who just come to visit and take a bit of their vibrant culture with them. There is no doubt in my mind that, even though it has been 5 years since Katrina and there is still an immense amount of work that needs to be done on environmental, local, and social levels, the people of New Orleans will survive. They have been surviving for the past 5 years, and I do not see that changing in the least. Not only will they survive, but they are also starting to thrive once again. As you walk around New Orleans, you can feel its heartbeat; you can feel the pulse of the music, the laughter, the food, and even the tears at times, but the beat is strong. There is a buzz in this city, an electric energy that makes you feel alive just by being here, a sense of fullness and purpose when you breathe in the Louisiana heat, the steady hum of hope. Hope. Hope is what the city of New Orleans has had for the past 5 years, it's what they have now, and it's what they always will have in the future. Hope, with a little bit of soul food and jazz music and joyous laughter thrown in. I am excited to see the upcoming progress that is going to continue to happen here in New Orleans. It was my first trip here, but it definitely won't be my last. All I can think this one question, "Who Dat's gonna bring New Orleans down?"

The answer?

No one.


Wednesday’s blog

       Wednesday was a lot of fun. We started out the day by getting up and going to Logger's Bayou. Instead of the healthy, tree rich place it should have been, the bayou was virtually a wasteland with no trees, and dead vegetation. It was a very heart breaking sight to see that place that had once been abundant with life for centuries, look lifeless and empty. The saddest part of all is the fact that the Bayou is like that not because of Hurricane Katrina but because of humans. Bayous are the city's first line of defense against Hurricanes so had Logger Bayou and most of the other Bayou's in New Orleans not been destroyed by humans then the effects of Katrina might not have been as bad. It is upsetting to hear that wetlands in Louisiana are still being destroyed at an alarming rate. The metaphor that was used to describe this destruction was that if the destruction of the Bayou could be compared to the super bowl game between the saints and the colts by half time half the entire football field would be gone.

               After we left the Bayou we headed to the house and got to work. The work is almost done so we put the finishing touches on the houses. Some people painted the outside of the house, some people cleaned floors and others got to caulk the doors. I had the honor of installing the door stops with Linh. It was fun mostly because I got to use a drill.  The ice cream truck came by but we went back to camp hope for a bathroom break and missed it. We took a break and went to get Snow Balls. Snow balls are large cups of shaved ice with flavored juice poured on top.  It was fun picking out and trying the various flavors that they had. They had flavors like cake batter, peach, almond, watermelon, coconut, etc. You could even get ice cream in the middle of the snow ball. We all enjoyed our various combinations of snowballs. After we had finished our treat we went to a new house. The house we worked at was to be presented tomorrow to the homeowner who had been a victim of Katrina. Her name was Amelia and she had been away from home for 5 years. In that time she had bounced around from house to house and had even ended up in Texas for sometime. She was very excited to be going home and so all tried our best to help out in any way we could to get the house ready for her. We did some last minute touches and pulled weeds, cleaned the floors, and any other small tasks that they had for us. The house was beautiful and I knew she would be extremely happy to see how nice it was.

      After we had finished up for the day we headed back to camp hope for a quick shower. After we showered we headed to the Wednesdays on the square event. Every Wednesday down in New Orleans they have a free concert and food and clothing vendors. At the concert we met up with a friend of Rita's named Sarah who was a NOLA native. At the concert they played jazz music and even had some members of the NOLA Saints foot ball team on stage. Everybody had fun at the concert. We talked to some people at the event, and all sampled some of the food that they were selling. I had shrimp and grits which tasted like heaven, and a nutella crepe. We all shared and sampled each other's dishes. After the concert was over we went to an old restaurant called Mother's. During our delicious dinner we listen to Sarah's experience working with the troubled youth of NOLA. I was especially interested because that is the field that I hope to go into one day. I was amazed to learn of all the corruption that prevents many of the troubled youth from getting help in NOLA. It was an interesting and informative conversation. After we left the restaurant we said goodbye to Sarah and headed back to Camp Hope. At Camp Hope we had fun by talking about astrology and we even befriended one of the girls who came from James Madison University.  I took out some tarot cards I had bought the other day from a voodoo shop. In New Orleans voodoo and tarot card readings are very much ingrained in the culture.  I tried to learn how to do it from the instruction guide but I didn't know what to do and instead made up a funny fortune about Linh. We all had fun doing that and eventually we got tired and fell asleep. I can't believe how fast this week is going by. I'm looking forward to tomorrow and what it will bring. I really love this place and I'm really glad that I came on this trip.

– Ayana

A Tuesday in Louisiana :)

Tuesday and Mehle

Day two on site.flew by a lot faster than Monday.  Louisiana is a complex in every aspect.  At touch down we were dropped into this complex culture that we had no exposure to prior to this trip.  Well at least I didn't lol. (I can do that here..the lol..finals are over).  Anyway friends, yesterday, Tuesday 1 May 2010, was our second day on site with her.  "Her" is our Mehle St. house of course.  Yesterday was only the second day that we have been working on her but I am already attached.  I don't know how I am going to leave her on Friday afternoon knowing that I won't return the next day

Where Work Meets Reality

Aside from the underlying debate on the Mets and the Yankees as a team, collectively, we worked quickly and efficiently.  As work commenced on Tuesday I began to make my list : 1.  Plug holes with wood filler, 2.  Paint baseboards , 3.  Paint exterior trim…What can I say friends, I work better with list.  This is all well and good but what happens when you're standing by the back door look out and you have a clear view of Angela St. because the house that was there is missing.  What happens when you understand that the three homes that are surround Mehle are either gone of boarded up.  What do you tell yourself when you finally realize that each vacant spot, each grassland, and each space that looks like a huge back yard or a community park was once the foundation upon which a family's home resided.  Our mind allows these things to come and go but the fact is that this is an issue.

Work Break

Friends I know I do not stand alone when I say that I enjoy the simple aspects of life.  In other words the little things make me happy.  I really love the fact that although we work only a block away from Camp Hope (our volunteer housing), we eat on sight. From 12 to 1 we grab a seat on a work bench or a seat on Mehle's front stoop and we eat. Some of us nap lol (Julia had you shout you out J).  Also the ice cream man well ice cream in her hey grab little Joe let hop on a short school bus play the Mister Frosty music and sell ice cream (good ice cream).  I didn't get run raisin but cookies and cream was satisfying.

 From the outside you must be thinking this girl is crazy she's naming houses and talking about all these weird things but the fact is that these are not just houses. They are parts of families. Without them people feel like there is a chunk of the missing.  Some don't have the will to return.  When I get home I am going to hug my home.Give Te-Te (I just named my home.every home needs one.we value people, animals and cars and we name them so why not name our homes)  a little bit of love and show a little pit of appreciation for keep me dry in the rain, warm in the winter, cool and the summer and most importantly safe with my family.

Linda Jackson

"I'm back and I'm not going anywhere.You see that right there Immo be here right there in that house" (Linda Jackson)

If Ms. Jackson wasn't the head of the Home Owners Association and a member of many other organizations here in Louisiana I would swear she was a comedian.  This woman has been through it.  We had the opportunity to visit her at her home and listen to a little of her story and what she does down here in the Louie.  She has been here all her life. She reared her family here, worked here, and loves here.  She loved it so much that right before Katrina she was thinking of staying and waiting out the storm.  Linda gave our small group the unpolished facts pertaining to what's happening in the Lower Ninth Ward and more importantly what's not happening.  Talking to Ms. Jackson made me want to reach out and just shake some sense into people that have the power to better the current state of the lower Ninth Ward but sit adamantly doing nothing.  It's so easy to have moments of anger when you see all that is wrong and how easy it would be to make it right.


After this small moment of anger that I suppressed my group and I went fishing for a meal. Our irreplaceable Rita scored once again suggesting that she saw us pass in our travels (Gotta love Rita first La Peniche  then this lace with all the food that I should have remembered for when I come back to LA).  Anyhow, this place had Po-Boys, Chinese Food, Crayfish, and an abundance of chicken.  It was amazing. Sweet and sour chicken that is actually made with real chicken… awesome lol.  I have some in the fridge for lunch today on Mehle's stoop.  Looking forward to it

Until next time,

Natasha Burton

Natasha Burton
Gettysburg College Class of 2013
Black Student Union Community Service Liason
Campus Box 0247 <>


Dear Gettysburg,

Hi, how are you? I am confident enough to say that I do not miss you yet. I hope you do not take offense, you are just a handful this time of year and I think we both need some "me" time. In the meantime, I think you would enjoy what we have experienced so far on our New Orleans Immersion Project:

We started out with a wonder 4am trip to the city. I wish I could tell you more about the travel, but I was not conscious for the most of it. (you try waking a 20 year up at 4am!) Anyway after finding our awesome white van, we arrived at Camp Hope. It is a great establishment run by Chuck (who is quite the character) and other volunteers. Basically, it is a converted school with barracks on the second floor and a hang out area with offices etc, on the first floor. The vibe at first in the place was very different and I feel that sometimes if more people lived this way, we would get much more accomplished and consume much less. There are over 150 people here, but it is definitely not overwhelming. Camp Hope to me seems like a sweet commune (not like USSR) camp where everyone shares and has the same goal: rebuilding NOLA.

After we arrived we did not have work to do the first night so we decided to check out the site of New Orleans parish (not a church, it's like a borough here go figure). We went to the French quarter which is a different world than most of what surrounds it. The buildings were antique and colorful. The art and shopping were intriguing. And the streets were hoppin with music and "lively" people. New Orleans on a Sunday still brings out a rowdy crowd. Later, we met up with a Melissa, a very friendly and knowledgable alumni who has been working with the St. Bernard's project. We went to a really sweet dive bar that is known for its po'boy. I felt adventurous and got alligator po'boy, I highly recommend it. To me, she was the most helpful in getting a true perspective on Katrina. It is amazing how much the media does not explain to other people in the country. Levees were not the only cause and problem during Katrina. There were problems with the wetlands and other engineered waterways. As a result five years later the health system is poor, schools are still shut down and people are still trying to get deeds to their homes that were passed down to them by family. The best way I can describe New Orleans from the first day is two cities. One is the mask that everyone else in America now sees. After five years I think that many people think New Orleans is back to the Marti Gras town that you see on televesion. The French Quarter was like that. The other city looks a little similar to a third world country. Houses are boarded up or non-existant, you can even see water marks on buildings that endured the storm. Regardless, what seems to connect these cities is the spirit and hope in the people that live here. Jazz, cajun and everything that "makes" this city is still here, hopefully in time all its inhabitants will be able to return.

Now, let's get to the work. Today, Monday, we woke up early, got oriented at the St. Bernards project and went to our site (which is surprisingly close to Camp Hope).  The house is 3 bedrooms, which is pretty large for a New Orleans house. When we got there, the house seemed pretty finished on the outside. We met Steve, a friendly Americore volunteer and Aaron, a rep from the St. Bernard project. We also met Scott, a tall (6'10''!) architect from DC doing some service for his career. Most of the day we worked out getting the outside fixed up as well as finishing painting the walls and trim of the house. I mostly worked on the trim and cleaning doors in the house. This job sounds easy but was actually pretty tedious. The work was good though and I feel really great about pitching in. New Orleans really needs all the help they can get. Many locals here are afraid of being the "forgotten city". Although there are so many other problems in the world and the media has far moved on from NOLA (except recently with the oil spill), this city still needs money, volunteers and solid work done. It is fantastic though to see so much effort and so many volunteers here with a great attitude and goal.

Overall, it feels great to be here. I am having an awesome time and it feels great to get out of my natural habitat. Plus, being the only guy I get some alone time at night which is kind of great after living in an apartment with eight other 'dudes' all year. Tonight we are going to preservation hall to go see some good old fashion jazz. You will probably hear more about that tomorrow.

Mike Altman