Helping Hands in New Orleans

Author: Monica Pack

Tags: Louisiana, New Orleans, North America, USA, Volunteering

During the summer of 2009, just before my fourteenth birthday, I traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana with my pastor, a fellow church member, and several teens and pastors from local churches for a Christian teen gathering known as “Jesus, Justice, Jazz”. Over 37,000 church members from around the nation gathered in New Orleans for this event, which was headquartered in the Superdome. The Superdome, completed in1975 for the New Orleans Saints, is the world’s largest steel-constructed room unobstructed by posts. It has hosted several sport events, concerts, and political conventions. This trip was very meaningful to me. It gave me the opportunity to participate in the Hurricane Katrina cleanup, meet other Christian youth, and experience the unique culture, food and music of New Orleans. 

The main purpose of the gathering was to assemble volunteers to rejuvenate New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina that swept the area at the end of August, 2005. My group worked with another group from Virginia to build ponds at a man’s property that had been destroyed by the hurricane. Even though we didn’t have time to completely fix up the man’s yard, together we did much more than he could do by himself. He and his wife expressed their gratitude by giving us all fresh blueberries that he had grown in his garden. They were delicious. Other participating groups worked on rebuilding the schools and making posters for schools to get the kids excited and involved in education. Many other groups worked on restoring the houses and nature that was ruined. I felt proud to help renovate the destroyed property of the residents. 
     
In the evenings after our service projects, the large group assembled in the Superdome to watch performances by Christian rock bands and several speakers who shared their stories of their struggles and how they overcame obstacles in their lives. For example, one man had lost his limbs at an early age, struggled to fit in, and was a victim of bullying. Another man was scarred from witnessing his best friend being shot. Although these stories were morbid, they were very thought-provoking and poignant. I enjoyed listening to the stories of all the speakers that had gone through so much hardship and still feel blessed.

     
During free time, my friends and I walked through the shops in the French Quarter. There were musicians playing saxophone, guitar, and more obscure instruments. New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz. Jazz was created from a mix of Dixieland, ragtime, and African music influences. Also, I watched a man dressed in tin perform a dance show. Street performers and musicians are an important aspect of New Orleans culture. I tried some authentic New Orleans food including jambalaya at the famous restaurant, The House of Blues.
 
     
Going to New Orleans was a great experience because I took the opportunity to meet and spend time with new people; also I enjoyed absorbing the sights and sounds of the culture. Working with the church groups was a very special experience for me because I feel it helped the people of New Orleans in a big and meaningful way.