It is an extremely difficult thing going to a community in need without coming across as an almighty, middle or upper class white person, who feels as though the community needs saving; especially when the ultimate intent is to help others. This was something I had an immense fear of prior to my alternative break trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. However, after spending a week with the people of New Orleans, I could not have been more wrong. We worked with an organization known as United Saints, a recovery project that has been helping revitalize New Orleans since 2008. Through this organization, we worked mainly on home repairs, such as scraping, priming, painting, residing, and roofing. However, United Saints pairs with other organizations in the community as well, so we also worked with the local animal shelter.
We all hear about disasters and poverty in other areas of the country, and while it is upsetting to think about, the thought soon leaves our minds. However, there is something about going into a completely different community and really experiencing it first hand that is more eye opening than I could have ever imagined. Stepping into the New Orleans community was like being in a whole new world. New Orleans gives the word community a whole new meaning. Everyone seems to know everyone, and if someone does not know who you are, they will talk to you anyways. While working at each of our sites, numerous neighbors or people from the area would approach us and thank us for the work we were doing for their community. While painting on site one day, a man rode by on his bike and gave us cookies- something that seems so out of place and questionable if it were to happen here. However, we were assured right away that this was a common occurrence and a way of saying thank you for all we were doing. We only stayed in New Orleans for one week, yet I immediately felt welcomed into the community and feel as though a part of me is still with it.
It is also the experiences that happen away from the work site that are just as eye opening. One day while sitting in downtown New Orleans, we stumbled upon a middle-aged native, Blain, who was clearly not very well off and had just been kicked out of his house. We asked him if he could go anywhere in the world where it would be. Blain answered with a smile, “Right here in New Orleans. Want to know why? Because it’s the best place to be.” Blain’s words have resonated with me since the day he said them. Here I am, someone who has everything I could have ever asked for in life, yet I still manage to find unnecessary things to complain about every day. I still manage to be unappreciative for the little things that others do not have the luxury of having.
Blain’s words have made me want to live my life differently, becoming more grateful for everything I do have. So many people I met and spoke with have so little, yet somehow manage to be the most genuinely happy people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. They are so content with what they do have, but also never fail to express their gratitude for the time and commitment we had to helping their community. The whole experience was truly eye opening, and I learned more in my one week in New Orleans than I could have ever imagined. I cannot thank the people of New Orleans enough for all they have taught me, and helping me realize the person I want to be and how I want to live my life differently. Even more so, I cannot thank my wonderful team enough for going through the experience with me. Mason Prata, Ben Weidman, Dre Cuzzupe, Daniel McAullife, Whitney Roberts, Christine LaHive, Courtney Bethel, Catie Mylott, and Riley Steele- we really became a family as we went through the experience together. I do not have enough good things to say about my experience, and I cannot urge strongly enough the importance of participating in an alternative break. It will most definitely change your life for the better.