The extent of the damage suffered in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 is no secret; however, the communities of the area are still recovering 7 years later. My local church youthgroup at the United Church of Christ in Norwell decided on New Orleans for our annual service project.
On Friday, August 13, all the members met at the church and loaded into a coach bus. 30 hours later (at 1:00 in the morning) we found ourselves at our home for the next week, Camp Hope.
We were allowed to sleep in Sunday morning; we spent the rest of the day bonding. I went for a run with 2 friends of mine around the neighborhood we were staying in. 84 degrees and humid is not my favorite weather to run it, but running of any kind is good enough for me. After closing prayer, we hopped back on the bus and went to the French Quarter for dinner. The restaurant of choice for us was Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had!
Unfortunately, the people in charge of finding work for the group dropped the ball and so we were left without much service to do on our first day on the job. Luckily, Camp Hope (run by The Gathering) charged us to complete some necessary chores for the facility and travel to their community center for more work. Once back home, the group played games, watched movies, and eventually got ready for bed.
On Tuesday, our normal groups split up and the seniors went to a local mission. We cleaned 2 dormitories and some maintenance on a tent building outside. We did not know they were providing lunch for us, so many of the group donated our sandwiches, snacks, and drinks that we brought to people outside who did not make it in for lunch. Our day ended on a particularly powerful note; a local preacher, Richard, came to speak with us. Not only did he tell us about his experience with Katrina and the Hurricane’s effect, but he also got us to open up about our personal difficulties and taught us how to take care of each other.
Wednesday my group began to see more of the construction side of our service project. We were bused to Joe’s house; he is a retired barber renovating his sizable home to rent out for people who need a place to live. We helped build a deck and started scraping paint off of the siding. That night the seniors travelled back to the French Quarter for the annual Senior night of bonding.
On Thursday, seniors and juniors stayed at camp and went through a discernment process run by a member of the Gifts and Call ministry at our church. We helped each other uncover our God given talents and got a chance to know each other (and ourselves) much better than before. In the late afternoon we went to a park and served chili dogs and beans for a local community event.
On our last day, Friday, we walked about 15 minutes away to an ARC center for people with disabilities. Groups split up to help with gardening and fence work. We ended our trip back in the French Quarter for one last walk through the city. Some wore homemade t shirts advertising the Kony 2012 movement on the Cover the Night event. On Thursday and Friday night we sat in a circle at camp and shared memories about each senior.
At last Saturday morning came around. We packed, cleaned, and piled back on the bus for our 30 hour bus ride back home. The project this year was, sadly, my last service project with my youthgroup; yet the memories and bonds formed will last a lifetime.
*Photos courtesy of Valerie Donaldson