Rebuilding New Orleans Part 3- Thanksgiving 2006

New Orleans Part 1

New Orleans Part 2

In 2006 we contacted Operations Helping Hands Program of Catholic Charities – New Orleans  and put together a  project quickly.   Since J 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.

J 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.

TV and Game Room
Dining Area
Sleeping Area- a messy one at that - what can we say, they're teenagers!
Students making sandwiches to eat at the worksite!
YES, it was Very Cold!
Bundled Student-- Burrrrrrr

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 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.

@ the headquarters gearing up, gathering tools, receiving instructions before heading out to the work site
The Three of Us including 3 yo M!


Receiving instructions from the Site Coordinator

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.


Personal items found inside the home
one of the many items we found inside the home




Elderly home owner in the middle with student volunteers


Sign of the times

This was our first large-scale Service project with college students, and what the students learned went way beyond our expectations.  In their presentations and papers, they talked about how this experience related to concepts in their Intro to Psychology class (a goal of “Service Learning” is more than the service, it’s about hands on learning of course concepts); most importantly it taught them compassion, empathy, and even though many of the survivors lived in another state, we were connected.  They realized how much of everyday life they took for granted, and learned that they themselves could easily be in their predicament (and some of us were, as Hurricane Ike pummeled Houston in 2008).

Operations Helping Hands is an ongoing project of Catholic Charities in New Orleans.  Please visit their website and learn how you could  help to rebuild New Orleans!   As of this post, November 25, 2009, they are currently looking for long-term volunteers (3mo-1yr).   At the time of this writing this post, A actually thought about doing this,  but surprisingly she exceeded their age requirement!  She missed it by 12 years!  Sigh….!!

We hope this post has inspired you to take action in your own community volunteer projects!  There are always people in need all around us!

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” -John C. Maxwell

We respectfully dedicate this series of blog posts to the Men and Women who tirelessly participate in recovery efforts during many natural or man-made disasters in the USA and abroad–and to the victims and survivors of those events.  You are our heroes and your work  inspire us to take action, and be a part of the solution, not the problem!