University of Michigan women's tennis junior Kristen Dodge is currently in New Orleans with a group, Student-Athletes Leading Social Change (SALSC), helping the city recover from Hurricane Katrina. She recaps the first few days spent down there, from painting a school to experiencing the city's fascination with Mardi Gras.
The next project we worked on for SALSC was ARC's garden. ARC is a program in which the mentally disabled are given a place to work. It was really nice getting to interact with the members of ARC and being able to see how happy they were. It was very uplifting, especially knowing that someday someone very close to me will likely be in a program like this. This project included a lot of shoveling in the hot sun. We shoveled roughly 10 rows of soil to plant certain things like papaya seeds. We also pulled out a lot of weeds to help prevent more weeds from spreading.
After working in the garden, the Janssen's (the leaders of the trip) took us on an alligator tour. We went on an airboat in the swamp and saw tons of alligators. The tour guide actually would feed the alligators chicken, and they would come right up to the boat. It was pretty freaky and scary. He even brought along a baby alligator and allowed everyone to hold it, although I did not participate in this activity. Later on that night, we also all went downtown to experience beignets. We ate at Cafe Du Monde and loved every bite of the beignets, which were much like funnel cake.
The final day of our trip, we went to another ARC organization that had to do with recycled beads. This program had us sort through 2,000 pounds of recycled beads. It was really cool to see the variety of beads that this place held. Jeff Janssen even made it into a competition to see who could find the coolest Mardi Gras beads.
Overall the volunteering with SALSC that we were able to do was so great and fun. Not only did it make everyone in the group feel good about him or herself, but we were also able to help others and put a smile on their face. Although we all came to give, I know we all received so much from this trip. It will be a memory that will last a lifetime.
On the first day of the SALSC (Student Athletes Leading Social Change) trip, Chris, from an organization called Hands On, gave us a tour of New Orleans and showed us everything that Hurricane Katrina had done to it. He explained to us how the abandoned houses still have X's sprayed on them from when the rescue crews went through them in search of people after Katrina. On each side of the X a number was put there. One of the numbers represented the number of dead found; the other number represented the number found alive in that house. Chris also showed us the neighborhood that Brad Pitt donated money to help rebuild. The saddest part of this tour was realizing that eight years later, there is still much to be done in renovations and cleaning up.
The real volunteering started on the second day. We went to a charter school and helped paint the hallways and started working on the outdoor recreational area. I can now say I now somewhat maybe know what it feels like to be a construction worker after building benches, shoveling, demolishing a gazebo and lifting all the wood to the dumpster. I completely underestimated the toughness of it all. But the benefit to it all was being able to see how excited the faculty was. Seeing their smiles made it all worth it.
After the day of labor, we went to Mardi Gras World where we were all able to learn about the culture of New Orleans in terms of the parades. I never realized how big of a deal Mardi Gras was. People base their whole lives around this event in organizing the parades, balls, creating the magnificent floats, etc. Tomorrow we are going on a boat tour of the swamps and seeing alligators. To say I am nervous would be a total understatement. Alligators freak me out, but I am all for the adventure and making memories so we will see how it goes.
My favorite part of the trip so far is the amount of connections I have already made. Being able to meet all of these other people who want to make a difference in other people's lives is reassuring. If you would have told me that I was going to make roughly 20 friends in the first two days of this trip, I would not have believed you. Everyone in this group is so nice and friendly. I am so thankful that I am able to be part of this.