In the summer of 2009, a small group from my church, including myself, had a great opportunity to fly down to New Orleans, Louisiana as a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also known as the ELCA. My small group of six would be amidst thirty three thousand other youth volunteers and church leaders. Each participant was participated in several teaching activities and one service day. The service day consisted of completing certain tasks to help beautify the city of New Orleans.
Once the six of us arrived, we spent our days roaming in the streets and soaking in everything New Orleans had to offer: their culture, music, and hardships. After all, their hardships were the reason we were there. The thirty three thousand volunteers wanted to minimize the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Many citizens did not have much to live on and some of them were still homeless as a result of the hurricane. Thirty three thousand eager-eyed volunteers were split into hundreds of groups that were ordered to be ready at six thirty in the morning to begin their service day. Some were sent out to clean litter along the streets while others worked to repaint fire hydrants. My church group combined with a few people from another church group and set out to an area that was once a swamp land. After the hurricane, the land was destroyed. The community made plans to create a ballpark where the land once was. My newly created group mulched several trees and then spent the rest of the day watering them. When the work was done, I left feeling motivated and eager to help in more ways.
As the week went on, I got to meet many new people. Every night, the thirty three thousand volunteers met in the Superdome for concerts, teachings, and inspirational speeches. The one speech that is forever engrained in my mind was spoken by a woman named Viola Vaughn. She told the audience a story about how a little girl continuously visited her house, pleading that she help the little girl finish the third grade. Viola had one simple response: “She was smart enough to come and find me.” Since then, Viola Vaughn has created a program called Ten Thousand Girls to help educate and find employment for young girls.
Going to New Orleans was such a great experience. I was able to make new friends, many of which I am still connected with on social media sites. I also learned that even the smallest project can make a big difference. I realized that we should appreciate the materialistic objects we have and be grateful that we have a roof over our heads because so many people go without what we take for granted every day. I enjoyed my time so much that my small church group of six is encouraging church members to support our group in growing and returning to New Orleans in the summer of 2012. I will be forever grateful for my experience and participation in New Orleans, Louisiana. Through this experience, I have learned that there is no minimum age limit to create change and because of this, I am extremely excited to head back again to give New Orleans what they deserve: safety and hope.
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