Alternative Winter Break: New Orleans

Alternative Winter Break: New Orleans

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Renewed Sense of Petrel Pride

After serving at various organizations like A Community Voice, Boys and Girls Club, Second Harvest Food Bank, and New Orleans Mission...
I realized why I fell in love with Oglethorpe University. Our ability to find common ground with one another, our drive to exceed expectations, and our compassion for others are the things that make us petrels. As a group, we learned about social and political issues that we were uninformed about. We also learned a lot about ourselves. In reflections, we looked at what we had accomplished through service and the purpose of it all. In the end, we all concluded that we could do more. More importantly, we wanted to do more.
 Whether it be on campus, in Atlanta, in New Orleans, or elsewhere, we all have something to give. When we are honest about the issues like poverty, education, racism, and disaster relief, we remove the optionality of service. Big thanks to the entire CCE staff for making this possible and to our group members who made it wonderful. 

Yasmeen Alim

Advisor Perspectives

As an AmeriCorps Member, I spend the majority of my time in service with various non-profits and causes, either as an individual or as a member of a team. This in turn leads to a lot of reflection. Participating in an Alternative Break, in a lot of ways, is not very different from a typical day in the life of an AmeriCorps Member. Lots of service, lots of questions, lots of discussion, and lots of learning. However, usually these things are experienced and absorbed through the perspective of a participant. The opportunity that Alternative Winter Break offers me is a chance to experience these things an an Advisor, and more importantly, an observer.

I've known since I accepted my position at Oglethorpe University in 2013 that it is my duty as a staff member of the CCE to do everything I can to provide transformative service experiences for our students. It is my job to challenge them and to offer new perspectives and to provide a welcoming environment for critical discussion and questions. Alternative Break really allows me to watch these transformations in action.

From the first reflection, where students were expressing concerns and even confusion regarding service, what service means, and whether or not their service made a difference despite the level of their own personal fulfillment, I knew that this trip would be special. These questions and concerns are real and worth asking, and they show a true desire to know and understand what it means to really help a community become healthy and self-sustaining. If all of the discussions we had during AWB had revolved around these subjects, I would have been happy, even proud.

But in just a few short days, these AMAZING students have already shifted from asking questions about whether a small service project fulfills their own personal expectations and needs to talking about how to take what they've learned and become ACTIVE citizens in their own communities. Basically, we've had students come from "how does service affect me" to "how can I affect change."

Most importantly, I really had nothing to do with this change. Like I said. I'm just an observer. Each project, each plan, each discussion has been entirely student lead. But I have had the gratifying privilege to watch the power of service immersion work in others, and I am astounded.

-Rebekah Stewart

The Other Side of AWB

Each day we set out as a group to take on major social issues in New Orleans. These issues included homelessness, hunger, education and poverty. I enjoyed directly and indirectly serving the New Orleans community on each project we attended, but my favorite part of each day was the reflection circle we attended each night to speak about what feelings,thoughts,emotions, successes and failures occurred each day.

I found that during the day each student and advisor was cheerful and hardworking. We were able to bond during each project by putting our heads down and working hard to reach a common goal. At first, everyone seemed super human to me, as if it came naturally for everyone to be so selfless and carefree in their service. So I was more than surprised to find everyone had the same questions and concerns about service as me each night during reflection. "Am I doing enough?" "How do I actually make a difference?" "Why isn't there a sustainable solution for poverty?" 

Overall, we all had endless questions as to WHY the world was the way it was, without a HOW to permanently fix the problems we addressed. Reflections allowed us to move past why and find how by examining ourselves. I realized that while I have volunteered for years, I have never taken the time to voice my global concerns about service and the nonprofit world out loud. 

AWB gave me a platform  I could use to voice my opinions. Even greater, AWB provided me with a small community to build my opinions and ease my concerns. I'm am extremely grateful that each member was openly honest and 100% willing to break down any barriers and remove any preconceived notions we had about each other and New Orleans. Therefore, we were able to create a community while aiding in the rebuilding of another.


Lower Ninth

Being an international student you see the U.S. as perfect country but in some aspects it is not, the media never show the problems that communities are going through.Coming to New Orleans for the first time I didn't expect it to see certain areas , especially the ninth ward ,in the state that they were in nearly 10yrs after Katrina.

Yes, there problems here but the way the community has come together is something special. Today we worked in the community garden. Gardening is something I don't mind doing but I avoid it. Today was better than I ever expected, it was a lot of work but having great company made the experience fun. And knowing that all the work that was done made the community look better and all the product from the garden goes back to the community. This is something I believe all communities should show and I would like to take this back home and show them that even first world countries have their problems but when the community gets together a lot can be achieved.

- M.N

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Epic Hoe-Down!

Our work today at the Acorn Farm was pretty epic. 

Owner Wade Rathke and founder of ACORN is a resident driven to serve his New Orleans community. The all-organic farm provides affordable produce to the NOLA community every other Saturday. Many urban areas like those in New Orleans become Food Deserts in the aftermath of devastating events and circumstances; however, the Acorn Farm is a small yet effective way to counter this issue. Our task was to clean up the garden for spring planting. We dug holes for new trees, mowed overgrown grass, cleared fences, and wacked weeds. 

After all the hard work, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride in our group. This year, only about 20% of residents of the Lower Ninth Ward have returned to NOLA. The Acorn Farm may be small, but it makes a difference by turning land destroyed by Hurricane Katrina into nutritional value. Our Oglethorpe group is also small, but we also made a difference today at the farm. I'm proud of our team. We worked together, motivated one another, and succeeded the Ogle way!

-Christal Hayes

Day 4: Community Voice and Boys & Girls Club

Today we split our day working with Community Voice and Boys & Girls Club. For Community Voice we worked at the community garden. We cleared the weeds along the fence, shoveled holes for trees, mowed the lawn and cleared trees. This has been the most intensive type of work we have done so far but it was immediately gratifying as we immediately noticed the difference. Also working on this garden made me realize the importance of beautification projects and the role they can play as the community works towards rebuilding itself and attract its citizens it lost in Katrina. After finishing up at the garden we went to Fair Trade, a coffee shop that works with the community garden. There we met Beth Butler, a community leader who helped us understand the importance of community organization to combat the problems the city still faces.
Today was also our last day at the Boys and Girls Club. We helped them with their homework and finished the stations we had started yesterday. The highlight of my day was playing soccer with a couple of the smaller kids as well as continuing to help Justin finish his homework. I don't always like children and find it difficult to connect with them. But the charm and humor of this kid won me over immediately. He immediately found hilarious  nickname for all my friends and me. Meeting and working with these kids today was bittersweet as the interaction with them is instantly gratifying like it is to work at the garden but knowing that today is the last day with them and I won't be there to hear Justin call me silly names makes me a bit sad. But this experience has restarted my interest in mentoring and is something I would like to pursue once we are home again.


Contextualize and Take It to the Drawing Board

Second Harvest Food Bank and The Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Louisiana were our hosts today, and thus the day was split between indirect and direct service. This juxtaposition gave the group a chance to learn about issues of hunger and food distribution, and to talk to children and get an idea of what their dreams and joys were.

These two opportunities were incredibly fun for the group, but brought to light much more serious issues than if the food pantry would get boxes within the weight limits or if Roger the 2nd-grader was gonna make the freethrow. After group discussion about the meaning of today's service, we broke down the relevance and meaning of what we did.

Packaging cereal and grits can give us an idea of the sheer volume of food distributed by the Food Bank, but it can't begin to convey to us the experience of a hungry New Orleans senior citizen who took out thousands in hurricane relief loans and can't be certain where their week's meals will come from. These kinds of experiences are valuable to get the ball rolling and spark interest in volunteers, but our responsibility is to ask questions and learn more about root issues, both so we can understand the value in our service and so we can take these experiences back to Atlanta where we'll work to solve the larger issues that plague not only this city but our country.

The direct service with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club was fun for volunteers and for the club members. After talking to the kids, however, volunteers started to notice a disturbing trend. The older group of students, ranging from sixth to eleventh grade, almost all wanted to be professional athletes or a similarly sensationalized superstars.

These dreams were bold and brave without a doubt, but upon further questioning they had no basis in life experience or in the support systems offered by several of the students. Reflections of public figures in the media were evident in the pursuits of these students, and this lack of representation really hit home to me, as a media student. I should not be able to tell Jeremiah why the only successful black men he sees on TV are athletes and rappers. I shouldn't have to question Brian about why he wants to be an engineer like the Asian characters in movies.

I came to New Orleans braced to handle issues of homelessness and hunger and to really delve into the deeper issues surrounding those plights, and today caught me off guard, to say the least. Something about my feeling of inadequacy as another source of support for these kids just really upset me. Maybe I'm too comfortable in the ways I do service. I'm used to a volunteer coordinator setting up a project with clear cut objectives and goals and value, and a good time to be had by all. Today has made me really re-evaluate the way I serve and the way I contemplate what I see and do.


Edit 1: (1/7/15 2:40 AM)
I can't stop thinking about the some of the things that writing this made me feel. I appreciate my fellow volunteers and classmates, and my trip leader for his continued support and willingness to help me work through these issues by talking through them with me. I think the way I go about service is seriously lacking sometimes, and I need to majorly re-evaluate myself.