Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reflection - Kristen Colucci

My visit to New Orleans has been an experience unlike any other for me. I received my invitation to the service trip much later than that of the original 11 other students and it came as a very unsuspecting surprise. I did not have a lot of time to really process what I was about to endeavor on in my time in New Orleans and when I saw the names of the other students on this trip I became hesitant. I did not know one individual (personally, that is), and some of the names I couldn’t even put a face to. However, now that I’m back, I can honestly say that I’ve formed bonds with these 11 students in one week that are similar to the bonds I’ve made with some of my friends of four years at La Salle. Each person was unique in his or her own way and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I did in those 7 days. Our smiling was contagious, and we were always enthusiastic about the day ahead of us (never heard one complaint!) This group truly brought out the best in me, and I cannot thank them enough for their kindness and encouragement throughout my time in Nola. I would not have wanted to be on this trip with anyone else.
I did not know what to anticipate for this trip whatsoever. Due to my late addition to the team I missed many of the meetings, leaving me basically clueless on what our duty in Nola was and how our days would pan out. I had never worked in construction before and had very little knowledge in the matter, so I initially walked on the site with a lack of self-assurance.  Within one day of working though my apprehensions melted away. Our site manager was both personable and encouraging, showing wholehearted patience even after our third time of failing to put up the siding correctly. We eventually became more at ease with our work, and despite the scorching heat and frustrations that inevitably followed our amateur mistakes, we all still gave our 100%. This was a beautiful thing to see. On our last day on Thursday, we all expressed how sad we were to leave the project, determined to finish our partially-done tasks and blow off our free-day Friday to come back to work. Working on the site taught me the value of patience and gave me a new sense of sympathy – truly making sacrifices to help those in need.

After my return from Nola I felt renewed both culturally and spiritually. The city of New Orleans was incredibly refreshing – dissimilar to Rhode Island, every person who we encountered was friendly and waved to us for no particular reason at all. Almost like they were happy to see us and welcome us into their community. Even after the devastating disaster of Katrina and the prolonged process of rebuilding 10 years later, there was still an unwavering sense of optimism and unity. As far as my spiritual renewal, I never really was a very faithful person. I never contemplated the presence of God in my life and I never posed the questions that we were posed with every day in reflection. This changed during my experience on the work site. I saw God in all of my site members: I saw their passion, their patience, their determination, their selflessness, their compassion, and their kindness. This trip cultivated a love of service in me, and along with many local opportunities for service, I’m hoping to some day endeavor on a similar trip back to New Orleans. Even though we contributed what seemed to be so little in the grand scheme of the construction of the home, we were reminded that our “drop in the bucket” was still important. I was proud to take the time out of my life to help create a new one for someone else. I strongly advise everyone to apply for a mission trip because this was undoubtedly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reflection - Jacob Khang

I got home from the trip and no one was home. My family didn’t have time to welcome me back and I realized why people always love these trips. It’s a family away from home. The community we made cannot be explained in words. All twelve of us brought something unique to NOLA. Heading into this trip I was nervous and afraid. I didn’t know what to expect and how I would fit in with the group, but by Friday night I knew that I belonged. I got to know every person on the trip, some better than others. The bonds I’ve created will stick with me forever.

For reflection, I shared that I lost my aunt around this time last year and I my emotions got the best of me. A year ago this week, I lost my aunt to cancer. Everything I said after that were words from my mouth, but I don’t remember thinking about them. I always keep my aunts funeral card in my phone case and there is a story on the back of it. It says, “One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each, I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints; other times there was only one. During the lowest times of my life I could see only one set of footprints, so I said, “Lord, you promised me, that you would walk with me always. Why, when I have needed you most, would you leave me?” The Lord replied, “My precious child, I love you and would never leave you. The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

I didn’t know how I was going to get through the week, but the city and the group helped my mind drift away from the thought of her. It helped me focus on the task at hand and put 100% into everything I did throughout the week. The sense of community really made me feel at home and driving through a beautiful city with amazing people and seeing the smile on everyones face showed me that God is present at all times. NOLA ‘15 was an experience unlike any other. I can’t describe what I went through in words, but it is something everyone should experience for themselves. I recommend everyone to go, because NOLA is a such a beautiful place and it was great to have experienced it with this group. I love everyone that went: Gabby, Sarah, Ronnie, Kristen, Sam, Mrs. Cerros, Drew, Mason, Jake, Joe, Brian, Alex, and Mr. B. This trip ranks #1 on the list of things I’ve done at Lasalle and it is thanks to them.

Community - Jake Gebhart ('16)

After returning from New Orleans, I am of course I little upset because I didn't really want to leave. On the other hand, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to go on this trip. I learned so much about the New Orleans culture. I went in knowing that it was the "Birthplace of Jazz", but I left understanding the culture of the Mardi Gras Indians and just the ways of the people of New Orleans. Working on the house with my team was a rewarding experience. I gained an appreciation for all construction workers and volunteers. The work can be hard and frustrating, but when you put it in perspective, it gives you a new sense of drive to work. I felt great every day after leaving the work site knowing that I made a difference in a house that would soon become someones home. My team was also fantastic. Mason always kept us going with his words of wisdom and comedy. Drew always had me laughing, but he also drove me to work hard. Kristen and Gabby just had so much fun while they were working and it made me have fun. No matter what they were doing, they were smiling and having a good time. Khang might be the hardest worker out there. He, like Drew, never got off task and non stopped worked. Mr. B brought so much knowledge and inspiration to the group. He would keep us focused on why we were doing the things we were doing. Finally, Joe and Anna, our site leaders, taught us how to do everything. They also spoke words of encouragement and always stayed patient with us no matter how much we messed up. Aside from the work site, I learned so much from people like David Montana, the Mardi Gras Indian. He had some great stories, amazing suits that he made, and the poem he wrote and recited for us was amazing. 

Although we had fun all the time, when we weren't working, touring or sleeping, we were all having a blast just being around each other. Whether it was screaming out the window, "DAD?", or walking in the French Quarter, or dining together at a local restaurant, this group was the most amazing group. Everyone has their own unique characteristics that made the trip a constant surprise. Joe and Brian brought comedy to the group, Alex brought some musical talent, Ronnie was always there to capture the best moments of the trip, Drew could always make us laugh with his newfound love of the South, Kristen and Sarah always had smiles on their faces and could always brighten my day, Sam and Gabby would pass out hugs left and right, Khang worked so hard and he was an inspiration to us all with his stories and finally Mason kept us all focused and energized! As you can see, our group has some great chemistry, but it the best part was, it took maybe about 3 hours into the trip to realize that. 

I learned a lot on this trip. The main thing I learned about was community. The community that we formed together as a group, the community we became apart of that is called New Orleans and the community that we need to form back at home that resembles what we made this week. I hope this all makes sense because it is hard for me to express all of my feelings on this blog. This trip was so amazing and I will miss it dearly, but the memories and the friendships that were formed will last forever.

Jake Gebhart

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reflection - Veronica Beretta ('15)

Since returning home after a week spent on the NOLA mission trip I feel completely renewed culturally, spiritually and personally. This week was completely eye opening to me and I am beyond thankful for this experience. I also consider myself extremely lucky to have shared it with this group. You are all amazing individuals who I have had the pleasure of getting to know and sharing this experience with. Experiencing the "southern hospitality" in New Orleans was heart warming and made it very difficult to leave. Bonding as a small community with this group made the experience so cultivating. I was touched by my site construction manager Christina's story. She is a true inspiration, her drive and her unwavering sense of hope and love truly touched me. She is a true role model for me and how I hope to look at life. Being able to physically serve this week by building or painting was a new way for me to see and feel God. Physically making a difference this week was something that I truly enjoyed and wish to continue. I am honored to have worked on painting the porch swing/bench with Sarah and Sam. Working on something with so much sentimental value and importance was right up my alley. Knowing that our love notes will be forever on this family's bench swinging on the front porch is an amazing feeling. Knowing that I left something behind in NOLA made this experience very fulfilling. Christina was not exaggerating when she told us that the people of New Orleans were the most positive people you will ever meet in your life. Seeing where the levees broke and the amount of abandoned homes and overgrown empty lots was heart breaking to me. However, meeting and talking to most of the community they seem in great spirits and a strong community with great faith and hope. The love and hard work put into rebuilding this city is inspiring and I am so grateful I was a part of it. Thank you to everyone who made this the best week of my life. I love you all and look forward to producing a documentary to share our experiences and spread the word to our peers.

Veronica Beretta 
Class of 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

Our final day in Nola

Today was a fun day. We had one last cultural experience planned for everyone. This morning we visited the Musicians Village and the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music Education. Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis were the spearheads of the Musicians Village shortly after Katrina. They believed that in order to bring New Orleans back, they had to bring the culture back, and to bring the culture back they had to bring the musicans back. They partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help build affordable homes for musicians. A few years back, they were also part of developing a music school in the community to provide music instruction to the kids of the neighborhood, including instruments rentals and loans. It was truly Lasallian in spirit and it was an amazing facility and program.

One of the most important experiences of the trip took place tonight, our final group reflection. Each night, students had the option to share a thought, a prayer, a feeling, something about their day. Tonight, at dinner, we asked that everyone be prepared to share something. I sat back and listened to deep, emotional, and insightful comments. One student after the next sharing their thoughts on where they saw God this week, on the sense of community within our group and in the city, on how this experience has brought them back to God and back to prayer, about how they found joy in serving others until an hour had passed. I was awe struck, I was proud, but most of all I was inspired! I have witnessed God in the students who have shared this experience with me over the years. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with these amazing young people and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to share this experience with a friend who shares the same passion for this city and it's people.

I find myself sitting here as I wind down for the night and the music of Dr. John is echoing in my head...the soundtrack of this moment..."Do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans?"

Thank you Duchesne House!
Thank you Project Homecoming!
Thank you Ms. Cerros!
Thank you Sarah!
Thank you Sam!
Thank you Gabby!
Thank you Ronnie!
Thank you Jake!
Thank you Mason!
Thank you Khang!
Thank you Drew!
Thank you Alex!
Thank you Brian!
Thank you Joe!
Thank you God!

Good night everyone,
Mr. B

Thursday, April 23, 2015

End of the work week at Apricot St.



It was a late night tonight. After dinner and a trip to the gelato shop, we all came back to Duchesne House just to hang out. The threatening weather was a little too dicey to go to an outdoor concert. So it's late, therefore I will keep tonight's entry brief.

What a fantastic week of work at Apricot Street! Khang, Jake, Mason, Gabby, Kristen, and Drew were awesome! When we arrived on Monday, our house only had siding about half way up the front and side of the house. The site manager's plan was for us to try to finish the 2 side walls during our time there. We slit up into smaller teams and, after a day of getting used to a massive number of volunteers on one site...I think we had 20 people on site a couple of was crowded. Eventually Joe, one of our site managers, helped with the overcrowding and assigned small groups tasks all over the property. Each small group went about their business each and every day this week with drive and dedication. At 4:10 this afternoon, 10 minutes after quitting time, we nailed in the last board of is siding and completed our 2 side walls! I am so proud of the work everyone did this week on our site. You all worked with such passion and drive. I hope, no, I believe that this week of service has lit a fire inside of help and serve those people around us. I pray that you will feed that fire and bring it back home with you, whether you serve Nola again someday or serve the people in your community, your friends, or your family. Great job guys! Sleep well, you earned it!

Mr. B

Final work day - Sam

As the final day of our work with Project Homecoming comes to an end, the love that I have for New Orleans and the people who call it home has exceeded all of my expectations. Although the time we had with Christina (our site manager and constant inspiration), and the house belonging to the long-displaced Martin family, has been short, there is no doubt in my mind that each member of our group here has learned and nurtured a strong passion for service that will not fade when we arrive back home. As the Sisters at Duchesne House have said to us during our nightly reflections, we are all now tasked with finding and resolving the "Katrina"s in our own communities.
This week, the project I was assigned at our house was very unexpected. Christina asked me (along with Sarah and Veronica) to paint an old porch swing. Initially, I was concerned that this project seemed menial and unimportant. However, Christina went on to explain that this swing was the place in which the owner of the house would sit each day (and after he was gone, the son would do this) until they had to take it down from the porch because the water damage was making it unsafe. As our time with this swing went on, Christina asked me to paint the large front piece of it with flowers and the words "No place like Home" so that she could present it to the son and his family as they finally arrived back home (for the first time since Katrina). When I began working on this (mostly alone in the backyard or on the porch while everything else did work with building doors and cementing tiles) I realized what a striking opportunity I had - I was able to use my skills as an artist to make something that would, very literally, represent "home" to a family that has been broken up and displaced for a decade. I knew that the few hours I was spending on painting some magnolias on a bench would be important to an actual group of people, as well as Christina, who puts an incomparable amount of effort and love into the work she does. 
During our last couple hours on the site, we began writing our "love notes" - notes addressed to the impending inhabitants of the house, written in permanent marker on walls and sinks and wooden boards that would be painted over eventually. They are wishes of love and goodwill for the Martin family from all of the volunteers and workers who have worked on the house. My note (that I was lucky enough to be able to write on the back of the swing where it would stay visible) included the observation that "hope" and "home" are similar words for a reason. For the Martin family, as well as all the people who have yet to come back home to New Orleans, I hope that they can find solace in the unconditional love from all those who have worked rebuilding homes and neighborhoods and be able to find happiness in a new and changing community. I did not get the opportunity to meet the Martin family, but I love them and I am already wishing them a (preemptive) merry homecoming. 
Personally, I have found something that I could consider "home" during this past week. This is my first time being away from my actual home but it hasn't taken me long to fall in love with the city and people of New Orleans. There is an undying sense of hope, openness, and soul in this community - it's indescribable. Building relationships with the other group members has been a truly beautiful experience, I have never felt this sense if closeness among a group of my peers before - this is my definition of a family. 

Sam West