Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Making an Impact

As we return to River Falls, we have all brought a piece of New Orleans back with us. Below you will find responses from each of the group members as they respond to what has impacted them the most during the Destination experience. 

The thing that impacted me the most throughout this experience was how much I didn’t know about the largest natural disaster in our nation’s history.  Through the unthinkable stories we heard, videos we watched, and stories we read, I learned so much more than I ever learned 6 years ago when Katrina hit New Orleans. My heart ached every time I gained a piece of knowledge. It ached for the people who had to, and still do endure such hardships, and that as a fellow American did not know what they were going through.  Through this experience, I have made it a goal to educate myself, and truly understand the social issues that are in my community, and do what I can to make a difference. – Christa

Learning that I got hurricane relief as my trip, I was somewhat bummed but after the trip I am soooo glad I got put in to this group. I learned so much and changed a lot too! The thing that impacted me the most is asking questions but going to find the answers. Now I plan to be educated about everything going local, national, and international once I ask a question! – Dani

Seeing that the city still has not been totally repaired. There are still many homes ruined and abandoned. Many people down there still need a lot of help. Rejuvenation of the city will take many more years. – David

I expected that we would have a positive impact on the house that we were going to New Orleans to work on, and we did. However, the greatest impact of this experience was seeing the value to the Williams family and how much that affected me. It was incredibly eye-opening to see how much impact the week of service we did had on others, it made me realize how important it is to make service a priority in my life and that it doesn’t always need to be a large contribution, sometimes the smallest things have a significant impact. – Tracy

What impacted me the most on our Destination trip was seeing what New Orleans still looks like today. Hurricane Katrina hit six years ago, and there is still a lot of work to be done. Driving to the work site everyday made me sad every time I saw a giant "X" on a house. It symbolized a family that was not able to return for a reason I will never know. Every time I saw an "X", I wanted to get out and repair the house myself. Knowing that Ms. Sarah herself has been waiting six years to return home, made it very difficult to leave it uncompleted. Though having to do so, I left knowing the people of Rebuilding Together will do everything possible to complete Ms. Sarah's house. They will also continue to help the families still in need, and bring them home. – Megan

It is hard to describe in just one paragraph the impact that this Destination trip has had on me. What stands out the most to me is the impact that Katrina had on the mental and emotional state of the residents of the impacted area, and beyond. Katrina not only destroyed the homes of the those in the area, but it broke apart families, destroyed communities, and severed friendships. The stories of frustration, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, depression, and post traumatic stress stick out in my mind like a sore thumb as a subject area that light needs to be shed on. My heart has been broken and put back together again a thousand times as I see the residents fighting to stick together, hearing stories of ordinary heroes and everyday miracles. The community is coming back. This is what has impacted me. Fighting. Never giving up. Being destroyed, inside and out, and quite literally, never giving up. – Brianna
I have never been on a Destination trip or even a service trip for that matter so I did not really know what to expect. One of the things that affected me the most was being able to have an impact on someone’s life through just a week of service. It felt good just being able to help someone out and knowing that you were not going to get anything in return, but really I think we did. I became more educated and had a greater understanding in the subject we were serving. We had the chance to meet amazing people and hear their stories. I learned more about myself and that I can make a difference. I want to continue making that difference in my community of River Falls. During the trip, I got the chance to get to know some truly amazing people and by the end, I had gained nine new friendships. I am so grateful for having this opportunity to go on a Destination trip, and cannot wait for next year! – Erin

Seeing the long lasting effects of Katrina and the devastation that it has unveiled on New Orleans has changed my life forever. Ms. Sarah in particular impacted me by sharing her strength and her story.  
– Britt

The stories I have heard from Ms. Sarah’s experiences will stick with me throughout my life as I continue to find ways to help in my own community. My group members also impacted me to be the best I can be and use all my talents to help those in need. Also I have been so impacted that I want to go back. – Steph

This trip impacted me in many ways. It was heart wrenching to learn deeper about the issue as well as Ms. Sarah’s story about all her heartache. I was impacted by her and the knowledge I learned through Mark and Devin. I was also extremely impacted by our group. I learned so much about them, service, and even myself. I really appreciate them and everything we experienced.  – Shanna

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day in the Life of Destination

Our experiences so far this week have been inspiring. Inspiring us to continue to keep working hard throughout this week. We woke up slowly and prepared for the warmer than Wisconsin weather with layering on the sunscreen and packing our hefty lunches. Today we continued to work on Miss Sarah's house; leveling the yard, hurricane proofing the roof of the house, and creating a drainage system near and under the deck. To our surprise, Miss Sarah and one of her three daughters visited and brought the crew some New Orleans shrimp Po-Boys and some classic Popeye's Chicken. We sat around and enjoyed the food, but more importantly appreciated Miss Sarah telling us more about her story.
We asked her many questions about life throughout Hurricane Katrina; her Superdome experience, getting in contact with family, why she came home, and many more. As she was heading to the Superdome, she felt so confident that the hurricane would pass, she left the TV on expecting to return to daily life the next day. She said the ordeal was horrifying and the worst experience of her life; not being able to contact family or friends. Her daughter finally heard from her after a week, and expressed how thankful she was that her mom was alright. Katrina hit in August, but Miss Sarah did not get a chance to return to her house until March. She has been waiting six years to have help rebuilding her house, and she can not express her gratitude wanting to return home. She told us today, that she has already started packing!
When looking at Destination, the back of our shirts say a lot about our purpose and goal that "It is not a vacation it is a process of self-discovery. It brings us face to face with the world. A destination not only shows us the world, but how we fit into it." As the work week is coming to the end, we realize how much we have made an impact on Miss Sarah and her family, but yet there is so much more to do in New Orleans. With working in our groups this week, we have made new friendships, but also brought out new strengths in each other. We want to continue this one week of change back home, and this experience will stay with us forever.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Inspiring People

When we arrived at our work site yesterday, we were introduced to two very inspiring people: Miss Sarah Williams and our site leader Devan.  Miss Sarah, as she prefers to be called, inspired us greatly from the moment we first met her.  She went around and asked everyone's name, making sure that she shook hands with each of us, and seeing her face on the improvements that have already been made has inspired us both days of our trip thus far.  Her kindness in offering her daughter to bring us all jambalaya for lunch on Thursday was truly touching as this woman owes us nothing.  During the last few days, everytime we began to feel fatigued or feel like we are ready to be done, we all think of Miss Sarah and her spirit to keep living and her dream to come home motivates us to work even harder. Miss Sarah deserves the best, and that's exactly what we are going to give her.

Devan, our site leader, is an Americorp volunteer.  Like us, Devan did a service trip when he was an undergraduate, and because of the experience he had, he came back to continue his service after graduation.  That alone was so inspiring to us, that he felt passionate to keep doing service and it wasn't just a one time thing.  To present, Devan has worked on over 100 houses, in seven different neighborhoods, and he hopes to continue his work for years to come.  Devan even plans to make New Orleans his permanent home, as he has developed such a strong connection with the city and it's people. 

Both Miss Sarah and Devan are inspirational, and we are sure that we will meet many other inspiring people during the next few days of our trip.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The New Orleans group in front of Sarah William's house.

Rebuilding Together

Today was our first day working with Rebuilding Together: New Orleans. Rebuilding Together is a non-profit organization works with reconstructing the homes of those affected by hurricane Katrina. They primarily focus on the homes of the elderly, those with a disability, and single-parent households.

Rebuilding Together is staffed in part by AmeriCorps volunteers. When we arrived, we were greeted by Devon and Mark, our site leaders. The site we are at is the home of Ms. Sarah Williams. Ms. Sarah (as she likes to be called) has 4 daughters and is currently staying with her father until the house can be completed. She was a victim of contractor fraud, as were many people after the hurricane. Contractors in the area, especially family friends exploited and manipulated the most vulnerable of citizens into giving their money with false promises of restoration. The volunteers began working on her house in August, and the estimated time it will take to complete is until June. The outside is already completed--so our responsibility is to help work on the inside of the house, as well as the yard outside.

When we arrived, we uprooted ELEVEN tree stumps! We also worked with Mark on the inside framework of the home and began work on the deck in the back yard. The yard had to be cleared of the debris that was displaced there during the hurricane. 

We had the honor of meeting the wonderful Ms. Sarah Williams today during our lunch break. She came to meet everyone (bringing some delicious cupcakes) and tell us about her home that her and her husband saved up to purchase in the '70's.  She told us what her home and neighborhood were like before the hurricane. After Katrina, she arrived to find eight feet of standing water in her home along with no salvageable belongings. She lost everything she owned that she did not have on her back; her picture frames were on the wall without any pictures inside them. She even told us the stories of each of the trees in her yard, everything she owned held meaning and many stories along with them. She spoke of the large pecan tree that shaded the backyard throughout her daughters' childhoods.  She was quite an inspiration to us and even called us her heroes. The thought of her being so happy to just be alive after this horrific event will keep us pushing forward this week to get as much completed as possible.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

48 Hour Countdown

In less than 48 hours, our group will be on our way to New Orleans!  We have been meeting since early December in order to prepare for this experience, and it’s finally here!  It’s amazing how much I have learned about the issue of natural disasters, specifically Hurricane Katrina.  This was a topic that I thought I knew a decent amount of information about.  I would soon discover how incorrect I was.  Through the speakers we have heard, articles we read, and videos we watched, we witnessed personal stories of families and how they were affected.  One in particular that stood out talked about a man and his family that relocated after Hurricane Katrina.  In their new city he had found a job, a nice house, and he was with his family, but yet something was still missing.  He yearned for his old neighborhood setting he no longer had.  New Orleans was not just where he lived.  It was a part of him.  Without it he felt lost.  The same story resided in so many people we heard from.  Everyone I speak to talks about how unique the culture of New Orleans is compared to other parts of the country.  I am so excited to be there, and be able to experience the culture with my own eyes. 

As we met for our last meeting, we share our hopes and fears that we have for this Destination trip. During our experience we hope to: gaining a greater understanding of the social issue, developing a better appreciation for service, get to know others, create hope, and hope that we are impacted through our experience. Some of the fears our group has are: that we will not get enough sleep, allergies/sickness are brought on, homesickness occurs, that we leave the spirit of service in New Orleans, and don’t change when we return, and that we will not make an impact.  

We will be blogging during our week to give all of our readers a sneak peek at what we are up to. Throughout the week we will be sharing about the agency we are serving with, taking note of inspiring individuals we have met, sharing what it’s like to be on a service trip, and what about this experience has been the most impactful to us individually. Check back in to get a sneak peak of what we will be doing all week!

Peace, Love, and Destination