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Group building.

After two months of hard work, the students who spent their Alternative Spring Breaks with NOAHH had transformed empty lots in New Orleans East into the start of a new community. They had helped build homes in St. Roch, the Upper Ninth, and the Lower Ninth Ward as well. All told, over ten homes were under construction, with thousands of volunteers contributing to them. NOAHH spoke to volunteers from many of the schools who joined us about their experiences on site.

On students leading the way:
Julia, principal from Haldane High School: “We had a group of students who were student-learning-centered in terms of service learning. At that point, the students put together a presentation. They wanted to figure out how they could bring service learning into their senior trip. For years, there had been the history of going to Disney World, and the students recognized that that wasn’t providing them with much. This came out of student-centered ideas. They developed it. They planned it. They fund-raised for it. Now it’s become tradition.”

Amy, social studies teacher at Rocky Hills High School: “About 11 years ago, right after Katrina had happened, a small group of students took it upon themselves to organize a trip, and at that point, a few other staff members helped them organize it. My 300th kid came down this year, and every year, the group gets bigger and bigger and more excited to come. We look forward to it all year long.”

On learning on site:
Shoshi from Maayanot: “I learned I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. I’ve been nailing this. We’re putting in the supporters for the floorboards, and we were knocking them out. We were able to get through so many of them. I thought we’d be able to get through five. It’s lunch, and we’re practically done. We’re gonna lay down floors next.”

Grace from Northwestern University: “It’s all the small things. I’ve never done construction before, so even getting a hammer in hand, climbing a ladder, that’s what I’ve learned.”

Jennifer from West Virginia University School of Medicine: “It taught me how much work it actually takes to build a house. I didn’t think it would take this much effort for this long.”

Amy from Rocky Hills High School: “They’re learning these life-long skills that they’re gonna carry with them. We’ve had kids who come who then go on to college and try to pursue their own service trips. There are those who join AmeriCorps or work for different groups. Those kinds of things that they can carry forward with them throughout the rest of their lives, I think, are the most valuable.”

Madison from Stetson University: “I liked how the skills that I learned here, I was able to use back home. I lie back home on a farm, so being able to learn how to properly nail something in or the proper steps that you need to follow when ensuring a structure is stable, I thought that was cool and easy to be able to take home with me.”

On students testing their own limits:
Carrie from Western University: “I learned not to be intimidated, to try new things, and know you’re safe. You are in good hands.”

Renee from Western University: “I think Habitat, this site, gives us a good opportunity to push ourselves and try ourselves to an extent that we’re comfortable with. Everyone’s nice and supportive. If we’re not comfortable with something we’re doing, there’s always another option.”

Alex from West Virginia University School of Medicine: “It’s cool to be up on the roof, too. I’ve never done anything like that. I’m hanging out up there all the time now.”

Amy from Rocky Hills High School: “I like to see the kids accomplishing things that they have never seen before, and feeling that sense of fulfillment that they have when they’ve done something they didn’t think that they could do.”

Jennae from Boonschoft School of Medicine: “We were trying to think of something that we could do to give back to those who need it most while still kind of getting to be immersed in a culture that we haven’t really experienced before. A lot of us have never been to New Orleans, so this is a fun experience to come and get to meet people who are from the city and get to help out.”

Julia from Haldane High School: “They were sore this morning when they woke up. Yesterday, they were energized. I think the process is sometimes slow. They have to recognize that it’s not always going at the grind. They’ve worked hard. They’ve worked really hard. I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised that they’re working. We definitely have hard workers.”

On working together:
Jennae from Boonschoft School of Medicine: “We built all the walls to the house in one day. It was just a whole lot of team work and all trying to work together to get it done. We had a lot of great instruction, so it wasn’t too hard. We kinda got out here and busted it out.”

Abby from Maayanot: “For me, it’s the community. Everyone is putting in effort to make one thing for someone else. No one has to do it. Everyone’s doing it because they have good in their hearts. You always meet amazing people here.”

Katie from George Washington University: “We get to know other classmates, other colleagues, different age levels. It’s fun to work with them.”

Joe from George Washington University: “There’s a community I’ve built going on these trips. It’s not just the people who work at Habitat. It’s doing such great work here.”

Kennedy from Western University: “Team work is the key. No one does anything by themselves. We all work together. One strength, one mind. We’re all a good team.”

Amy from Rocky Hills High School: “We learn about team work. We learn how to solve problems, how to overcome obstacles, things we might not think we can do, that if we put a little effort into it and put a little problem solving skill into it, we figure it all out. We learn how to become better acquainted with each other because the kids who come down here are not all friends when they come down here, but by the end, we are like one big happy family. And they go back with new friends that they didn’t know before.”

On the impact of volunteering:
Amy from Rocky Hills High School: “They get to see from the beginning of the week to the end of the week all of the progress that’s been made on the house. Last year, when we framed basically an entire house, going from nothing to a whole house, they were in awe of that, and I was in awe of their ability to accomplish that. It’s gratifying every year.”

Carrie from Western University: “It’s very rewarding. Our homeowner came by the other day. She was so appreciative, so friendly. She calls this place her palace. I was so thrilled to meet her.

Katie from Salisbury University: “I’ve gotten a lot of real world experience. it’s been cool to see what a lot of little things you can do to help your community. I know I definitely want to do more with Habitat back at home. Seeing the big impact you can make as one big group is awesome.”

Jordan from George Washington University: “After experiencing the community down here, I just want to come back.”

Sarah from St. Joseph’s Academy: “I think I might want to do nonprofit work, so for me, this is a fulfilling experience of knowing this is something I like to do. Even though you’re not like, ‘oh, wow, this is fun and perfect,’ you get this feeling of pride.”

On being on a Habitat site:
Grace from Northwestern University: “It’s so well organized. We got here and there was automatically a team of people to show us what to do. We divieded and conquered. Once we finish one task, it’s boom! right into the next one.”

Sarah from George Washington University: “I love the atmosphere. I love working with people. It’s energizing to me.”

On seeing different stages of construction:
Sarah from St. Joseph’s Academy: “I’ve done a ton of mortar and stuff like that, which is weird because it was like we’re building the foundation of the house. We’re on site with a couple of different homes. Some are completed, almost new, and we just did the foundation of one that’s not even started. We see all the steps. It’s kinda shocking in a way. ‘Wow, this is happening!’ We’re doing this. This is part of something bigger than us.”

Paul from Northwestern University: “Last year, we were doing a lot of the siding. This year, we’re doing the part before the siding. We were using the chalk line, finding the stud, so it’s kinda cool to see how it all comes full circle.”

Shoshi from Maayanot: “I’ve done Habitat before, but being a part of Habitat from the beginning of making a house is fulfilling because you can see the foundation. This is what someone’s gonna live in some day. You’re helping them get an actual home.”

Leora from Maayanot: “Each day that we come, it’s not so much what we do, but what ends up adding up to a house. When this is done, someone’s gonna live here. Our fingerprints are gonna be on the walls.”

Amy from Rocky Hills High School: “I feel at this point, we’ve done a little bit of everything, from roofing to landscaping to framing and siding and painting. Inside work, outside work. Driveways, today was our first time, so a little bit of everything.”

Madison from Stetson University: “It’s nice getting the experience to seee where all of the work we’re putting in is going. Last year, I never got to meet the homeowners, so being able to see the one lady show me her Habitat house and talk about how wonderful it was and what great experience it was to work on site, was amazing. Now she feels the need to come back and help volunteer. I think that’s very cool.”

On New Orleans:
Jennae from Boonschoft School of Medicine: “People say that people from the Midwest are friendly, but I’m not convinced it’s also people from the South. Everywhere I go, people are always saying ‘hey.’ I talked to this guy who lives in this house every single day. It’s a common theme with everyone who lives here.”

Amy from Rocky Hills High School: “We do talk before we come down here about how the culture’s different, the climate’s different, everything is a little bit different. They like to experience new things. This i a great way to stay in an environment which is a very safe environment for them, very protected environment for them. To see an entirely new culture. I don’t think there are other cities like New Orleans. It’s a unique city.”

Jamie from Mizzou: “New Orleans has such a diverse, rich culture. These are the reasons why we kinda in a sense gave away our spring break. But we’ve been having a great time, meeting new people. I have more fun doing this than getting drunk.”

Julia from Haldane High School: “We try to expose them to all the culture down here. I’ve said about this trip when talking to the Bord of Education or other administrators, when you’re from New York and you come to the South, you come to a place like New Orleans, the culture that’s in New Orleans is–I’ve traveled to many many cities in the United States, and I don’t know that there’s another city you get almost an international vibe from.”

On why they get involved:
Madison from Stetson University: “My spring break, I would be doing whatever I wanted, but I thought it was a great idea to spend the week doing something a little bit more selfless and being able to give back and do something that made a difference. I’ve always had a passion for doing volunteer work, so I thought it fit right in. My mom’s always brought me up to look farther than the tip of my nose. She’s always made it very important in our house that we get a broader education on what’s out there. She wants us to make sure we’re conscious of the benefits that we have. If you are luckier, being able to give back and ensure that others are able to prosper as well is important, because you know the only way the world can continue going around is if we help each other succeed.”

Jamie from Mizzou: “It gives us this alternative. Instead of going out and partying, we actually do service instead. We’ve been planning this since May last year.”

Karolina from Mizzou: “I’m interested in public health since I wanna go to med school i the future. I think it’s so important to work with different communities because you’re exposed to different people. Those are the people I’m gonna be impacting. I think it’s important to give back to a community that’s given so much to me.”


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