Over 1,600 students came to New Orleans to volunteer with NOAHH as part of alternative spring break this year. Students came from all over the United States and from Canada, and many of the schools bringing volunteers are coming for their fourth, fifth, or sixth time, and many of the students are on their second or third visit. Every volunteer brings a little progress and change to the city of New Orleans, and many of the volunteers say they grow personally during their trips.
Tricia Pink from Fanshawe College, Ontario, Canada, came to New Orleans on her second spring break trip this year. Fanshawe originally came to New Orleans five years ago, and this is Tricia’s second time on the trip. On her first trip, she was surprised at the slow state of repair in the city, but the culture and friendliness of the people has brought her back. This year, she sought out the home she worked on last year, and she says she was shocked at how bright and beautiful the home is now, especially the colors of the home.
Peter Boldt also came from Fanshawe College in Ontario. He says that the pictures and news reports he saw of New Orleans before he arrived did not do it justice. The amount of work left to be done was a real surprise for him, but in his second year here, he says, he has seen many more new homes and much more progress. He enjoys volunteering because he finds the work rewarding and knows that it’s appreciated.
Linda Wharton is the sponsor of a school group from London, Ontario, Canada, with the London Central School of Jazz. She has come twice before, and over the last two years, she says, she has seen a great deal of improvement in the city. She says that every year, her students’ lives are altered by their experience here, changing their world view by taking them out of their normal routines. Though the city is progressing and the students’ lives are changing, she says, the level of passion, resource, and enthusiasm in the volunteers remains the same—outstanding.
Becca Rich is one of over a dozen students coming with the George Washington University for a second time or more to volunteer with NOAHH. After her first trip, she says, she wanted to give others the great experience that she had, so she became a group leader this year. When she came last year, her group made a strong connection with each other and with the city, and seeing this happen is the aspect of volunteering that brought her back. Her first trip changed her way of thinking, she says, and now she hopes to witness that personal progress with a whole new group.
Sarah Shin is the Program Coordinator for the Office of Experience Learning at Molloy College in Long Island, NY. She has been bringing students to New Orleans since 2007, and, she says, every year, she finds many of her students want to return (and more than a few, she says, have moved here after they graduated). Over the last five years, she has seen the neighborhoods grow from wreckage with homes literally on top of other homes to cleared lots to the beginnings of neighborhoods returning. Now, she says, she notices the progress, but the fresh eyes of her students still see the work that needs to be done. Her job is to guide students in various volunteering efforts, and she attends trips every year to Puerto Rico and South Dakota as well as New Orleans.
“There’s resilience to the people,” she says. “A beautiful spirit that’s so different from New York. When people ask how you are and say hello, you can tell that they really care.”
Travis Williams first came to New Orleans as a volunteer four years ago. A friend of his recommended the Molloy College spring break trip to him, and he says, as soon as he arrived, he knew that doing his part in New Orleans was his calling. On that first trip, he helped paint someone’s home interior, and he felt gratified to know he was making a small difference in someone’s life. Every time he has come, he says, that same feeling returns.
During construction, volunteers are often encouraged to write messages on the frames of the homes they are working on. When Travis sought out the homeowner of a house he had worked on previously, he was warmed to know that the homeowner had taken pictures of the messages. He says that that sign of the impact of volunteering showed him that what he had done had truly made someone happy.
The other story he tells of the progress he sees is of an elementary school his volunteer group passes every time they come. Though he could not recall the name of the school, he says that he always points it out when he tells others about his trips. In the first year, the school was wrecked, devastated, without windows or doors. In his second year, the windows and doors had been replaced, but the school had not yet reopened. In his third year, though it was reopened, it still had many repairs left. But this year, he says, he saw a freshly painted, newly renovated school where once there had been devastation.
Spend some time with NOAHH and Volunteer today!!!