It’s hot. That is no news, of course. It is warm in The Big Easy. But the Follen youth on this service learning trip – all 25 of them – are doing great work out in the middle of an Esplanade in Gretna. Working with the NOLA Tree Project, they are raking mulch and trying to fill in the spaces where the torrential rains exposed roots and act as breeding areas for mosquitoes.
We have been doing a variety of projects here in New Orleans. We have worked with an elderly retired pastor and his wife in a town called Denham Springs near Baton Rouge. Their church and house were filled with 12 feet of water last August and they have been unable to get aid to repair those facilities. We have come to help, and the pastor has declared us a gift from God.
We have cleared invasive vines. We have planted trees in a part of Algiers, one of the most depressed areas of New Orleans, to beautify public housing sites. We will return to Denham Springs tomorrow to Pastor JR’s house, to finish laying a subfloor and wiring the house. We hope that this will open up the path for sheetrocking and for the restoration.
We have learned about racism and white privilege, and try to remind ourselves of those realities when we don’t have enough avocados for lunch, or enough fancy cookies to eat. Things are definitely different in New Orleans, and we are trying to leave some of our expectations at the door and connect with people.
And there has been fun. Last night we went to Wednesdays at the Square, a live music event, and enjoyed local food, capped off by Beignets at Cafe Du Monde. Tonight we will be guests at a crawfish boil at Dave Holt’s home. He works with New Orleans Neighborhood Housing and has been instrumental in putting together the work projects we are involved in.
On Saturday, we will visit the Whitney Plantation and have a driving tour of the lower 9th Ward, still struggling to recover from the hurricane that happened so many years ago.
We have met with Reverend Tyronne Edwards in Plaquemines Parish and learned about the impact of the BP oil spill on black fishermen (“the oysters are gone forever,” he says); we have done a lot of sightseeing in this area, and our knowledge keeps growing.
This is a hugely valuable trip for our Follen youth and the adult chaperones who are accompanying them. Thank you for your support of our good work and Follen’s presence in the Jazz city.
— Deb Weiner, Interim Director of Religious Education