In 2006 I contacted Operations Helping Hands Program of Catholic Charities – New Orleans and put together a project quickly. Since Jack had access to over 200 college students each semester, a notice was sent out about our project in New Orleans. We were able to obtain free food and lodging via Catholic Charities for everyone participating in the project! Nearly 30 students volunteered to join our little family on the Operations Helping Hands Project.
Jack made this into a service learning class project where students have the choice to participate if they choose. Part of their assignment was to write a report about their experience after the trip. These reports really wowed us but I’ll get to that a little later.
I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody. ~Lily Tomlin
The truth is we knew deep down that New Orleans needed more than the French Quarter and the Garden District. It needed it’s people, it’s neighborhoods back slowly, one day at a time. We also knew what we could do was small compared to the scope of need in New Orleans. However, we prefer to have touched a life than none at all; we preferred to have given a helping hand, no matter how small of a gesture, than none at all; we preferred to have planted one seed in the mind of a student than none at all!
We ventured out on our 6 hour road trip to New Orleans on a Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving 2006. We braced ourselves since we were traveling with teenagers (all over 18) and some have never been to New Orleans. We all arrived in one piece and safely! Wheeeewww! Once we arrived the coordinator gave a quick orientation of where everyone will sleep, shower, eat, etc.
The Team got up early each day and worked on Wednesday, (half day) on Thanksgiving day, and Friday gutting homes that belonged to two elders. It was hard physical labor. By the end of that Thanksgiving holiday weekend, as a team, we volunteered close to 600 wo/man hours in 2.5 days. We learned that gutting of the home alone would cost about $6,000 in labor. Essentially, volunteers saved these home owners a lot of money. Everyone felt good knowing that their hard work made a difference.
One student in particular interviewed one of the home owners as a class project which she presented later in the classroom.
Sadly, during the gutting, students found personal items such as pictures, clothes, albums, & other household items as the owners had to flee for their lives leaving everything behind. It was truly an eye-opening experience for all of us. They conversed amongst themselves throughout the day and tried to place themselves in the shoes of the survivors.