Sunday, February 24, 2013

Closing Statement- Jessica DiLorenzo

My third and final year being a part of the New Orleans Service Learning program ended yesterday. In all honesty I thought I would be much more sad. Maybe, it's the fact that it hasn't been a full 24 hours since I last saw everyone or the perhaps it's the fact that I'm trying to live in denial that a chapter that spanned three years of my life is finally coming to a close. In no way am I saying it was easy to wake up alone this morning, and I greatly miss eating my breakfast and dinner with 45 other people. But, a huge part of the reason I believe I am satisfied with leaving this program is because I have so many aspiring peers to leave this continuously growing and thriving program with. It's their time now to have some of the greatest experiences of their lives. As a coordinator of this program everything that happens regarding trip or fundraisers or anything means so much to me and if there is ever a flaw or something is done extremely well it is always taken to the heart by myself and all of the other coordinators. Everyone who was a part of this program played a key role. .
During this trip the topic of relationships was brought about a lot. The relationships that are built during this trip always surprise me. Every year it shocks me how such a diverse group and can come together and become great friends. This year I believe the group was the most solid that its ever been. I know personally I could walk up to anyone that was a part of this program and be able to talk to them about anything. I personally had an experience that was  one of a kind and I had everyone there for me which was the best and made my trip better. You all are truly my family and it's important to know that just as you were all there for me I will always be there for ya'll. Along with all of my friends that were directly part of this trip I was able to make new friends too! Whether it be the comical and kind chaperones that we took on this year hoping that they'd love the experience, which they did in every way, or the team leads of the projects we worked on with United Saints I know that friendships were created or candles were lit.  It was one of my own personal goals to create new friendships and further others and I believe that is exactly what I did. I lit as many candles as I could over this past week and I hope to continue this throughout the end of my senior year. After all, its the people and relationships in your life that make it worth while.
  Being a second year coordinator I can easily say that this year went phenomenally. I wouldn't want to do a single thing differently. I have to thank all 46 people that helped make this program possible. I wish the best for the future coordinators and the program.

Moving Mountains With Spoons... Danielle Croteau

I've written this entry about five times now trying to search for the right words to say and I just seem to be at a loss. I have never been good with saying things right but I find if you search deep enough the answer is always in there somewhere. So here it goes...

People ask me all the time, why do you bother to go to New Orleans? This question always surprises me because, I can not imagine my life if I had not gone down there three years ago. New Orleans has a way of pulling you in and stealing your heart. There's no other way to explain it. I love that city for everything its worth; the good, the bad and the ugly. I've fallen in love with the feeling of making the smallest difference in someones life. Whether that be from painting a mural, removing mold, playing with a shelter dog. It may sound absurd but New Orleans has captivated me and in return I dedicated myself to helping it grow stronger and trying to improve the lives of the people there. I was told this week that what we do is like trying to move mountains with spoons. Well if that's the case I and 45 other people were also ready with their spoons. No hesitation at all, we all dove right in.

As I am graduating this year I feel sad because my journey is over. However I know I am on to bigger things and the lessons I have learned here will carry with my the rest of my life. New Orleans has made me who I am today and I think that is something to be proud of. So me and rest of the Seniors will graduate soon, leaving behind a legacy that I hope will carry on for many more years. Always improving and always flourishing. Thank you Mr. Kane for giving me this opportunity, you have handed me the world and said let's see what you can do. Most people wouldn't dare trust a teenager with the that responsibility but I like to think we all rose to the occasion.

Pressing The Reset Button

If you had told me a year ago that I would be returning to New Orleans for a 4th year, I would have thought you were crazy. However, it's now clear to me that often times the universe has surprising plans for us and that these plans include ups and downs. Luckily, you're never given anything you cannot handle.

When I graduated last year I was sad, but ready to leave NOLA behind. I had been a coordinator for two years and was the only sophomore my first year. I had learned a lot and felt ready to tackle college at the University at Pennsylvania. Then I found myself home on medical leave for the spring semester and feeling completely lost and confused for the first time in my life. I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted. In fact, when Kane told me a spot had opened up on the trip and that it needed to be filled, my first reaction was to say I didn't want to return to the city that held the most magical moments of my memory. Thankfully my support system (my mom, Sam, and Kane) knew what was best for me and I was finally convinced to say yes.

From that point on I began going to meetings sporadically and helping out at fundraisers. I felt like I was a stranger in my own home and it didn't help that my position in the group wasn't fully outlined. Was I a chaperon? A participant? It felt weird seeing the new chaperons that I had watched grow complete the roles I had done myself for years. It was even weirder not knowing half of the people in the group.

The day before we left I wasn't sure how I felt about going away.I was scared to be away from my lifelines that would be staying in Massachusetts, despite the fact that my mom and sister would be with me.I was scared that I would be too weak to work. I was scared that the trip would drain me so much emotionally that I would revert back to lost confusion that I had only very recently begun to escape.

I was scared up until the moment I stepped out of the airport into the cool, humid New Orleans air. At that moment the fear became relief. I was in New Orleans, far away from all of my demons, anxieties and responsibilities. I was in New Orleans and all I had to do was try to make a small difference.

Saturday was spent installing light bulbs through Project Green Light. I rode in my mom's van and awkwardly tried to laugh alongside a group of students I barely knew. However, I felt inspired again and holding a small puppy named Ted at one of the houses made it impossible not to smile. Then on Sunday I realized I was stronger than I thought. Not only did I pick up trash, unscrew what seemed like a million screws, scraped burnt tile off of a counter, and loaded scrap metal into a truck, but I also helped to blaze a trail. And I began to make connections that put cracks in the wall I had put up against other people over the Fall semester. Later that night a jazz church service helped me to answer a few questions about the nature of my faith, which I have been trying to define for years. On Monday I had a chance to think and reflect while working on a community garden. After loading a truck with mulch I spent the rest of the day replanting irises and thinking quietly to myself. Most importantly, I was on a work site without my mom, something I had sworn that I would not do just a week earlier. As I drove away from the garden with Mr. Morgan, listening to soft New Orleans Jazz, I realized how happy I had been all day. Tuesday I was back with my mom, but not because I felt I had to be. At Second Harvest I danced and sang along with all of the other students and I finally felt fully content just existing alongside my peers. Then after lunch we went to Hoffman Triangle and were told that we had to clear an overgrown abandoned lot. It was about an hour into the job (I had been loping down trees and raking up debris) that it hit me - I felt like myself again. I had found the reset button that I had so sorely needed. This feeling continued as I attended a reflection service at the Trinity Church that night and as I worked at LaPlace clearing mold and helped out at the Community Center at Saint Bernards. Spending time laughing and singing and gossiping with the other 45 students became something I looked forward to instead of avoiding. And most importantly, I was continuously happy.

On Friday I returned to Second Harvest and Hoffman Triangle. By this time, I had found two new sisters (DJ and Sam C.) and had become closer to my biological sister and best friend. As I worked alone in swampy portion of the field we were clearing I decided that this fourth trip was the best of them all because it meant the most to me. Not only did I complete good, meaningful service, but I gone from an isolated, worried, and negative person to a happy one and my fears were replaced by a belief that everything is a blessing. I have New Orleans to thank for that and all of the people I met - from friends like Robert, to Maria at the garden, Henry/Matt/Hadas/Chris from United Saints and all of the people at the community center. I am so thankful I had this trip and proud that I faced my fears and went. Otherwise, I don't know how long it would have been before I found a reset button.

After flying back to NYC on Saturday, I spent the night at my Grandmother's in NJ. When it came time to go to bed it seemed too quiet. I missed the sirens, the sound of seven other people breathing around me, and the New Orleans air. Yet, the feeling of the Crescent City was still with me. And I have faith that it always will be.

Casey Libonate

Home Sweet Home (Anastasia)

After a long day of travel yesterday, I have to admit I was disappointed to wake up in my own bed. I missed waking up, laying in my bunk and turning to my roommates and the rest of the cave woman, to give them a quick hello before getting ready to start the work day.

 I quickly grew accustomed to the new routine in New Orleans and found myself one of the first people awake in my house at 8AM, which was 7AM in New Orleans and breakfast time at United Saints. Even now I'm looking at the clock and thinking how we would all be eating dinner around the many tables in the Violet Jackson room in just 15 short minutes. For me I think that is part of the hardest parts of the trip, is adjusting back to life back in Massachusetts.

Mr. Kane stated what I (and i'm pretty sure all the NOLA members) are feeling now perfectly last night. He described it as us feeling maybe a little lost, along with us wondering what is the point in the all the work we are trying to catch up on before school tomorrow. We truly did just leave a Utopian enviornment I believe, we were able to just take a break from the daily grind of school, work, and the basic stresses of life to serve others. We had no worries other than to do the job we were asked to do, to the best of our ability. I had the week of a life time with all my friends, and my NOLA family working hard, and believe it or not relaxing, and just totally immersing myself in the work in New Orleans. Seeing all the snow falling now, as it has been all day just puts a finality that the trip really is over. I wish that this week could have stretched on for two weeks, a month, just more time. But, I've always heard that all good things must come to an end, so i'm no longer sitting on the balcony at United Saints, with the late night breeze in shorts and a t-shirt. I am sitting at my computer at home, writing this blog. I'm still having a hard time coming to grips with that since this was my second and final year on this trip because I will be graduating this spring.

To end this blog post I guess I just want to say how much I have enjoyed my time in this program, it was truly life changing in so many ways. I can't even begin to express how much this program and all the members mean to me. As I kinda do a last reflection on the trip, and flip through all the thousands of photos that are making their way onto Facebook...I am just so proud of our group and what we accomplished this week. I'm so grateful I was able to be a part of it, and I'm honestly crushed that the week is already over, but I will forever cherish all the memories made. From hard work on work sites, singing/rapping in the cars, or just playing some basketball at night with everyone I'm glad I was able to leave my mark in New Orleans, the same way it has left a mark with me in my heart and soul, forever.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Another year.... Mr. Kane

Another year has come and nearly gone, every ne is different in its own way. I am truly blessed to work with some of the most amazing students that are at North Middlesex. This program has been a labor of love for seven years and each year my students renew my faith in humanity.  We fly out at 11:05am from New Orleans and start a long day of travel, ending in Townsed around 10:00pm. I find myself counting my blessings this evening as this experience comes to a close. What a great time, what great students, what amazing chaperones, what phenomenal coordinators and what a wonderful group of seniors this year! I loved it all! I love you all! As I conclude, I am reminded of the Louis Armstrong song "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?" as I prepare to leave what feels like my second home.

Stay tuned, we will have a few students doing a post-trip reflection on this blog by Sunday and/or Monday

Brandon Donohoe Round 2

Today was the final full day of my adventure here with the United Saints of New Orleans.  I loved the whole experience; from just hanging out with the group to the hard work that we did at all of the job sites throughout the week.  The experience has changed me in ways that I am struggling to understand at the moment myself and I most certainly will not be able to explain any time soon.  The level of comradery, companionship and love that I feel for every member of this group is second only to what I feel for my beloved family.  Words cannot express how much I will miss every member of this group as we part and go our separate ways but I will rejoice in hoping (if not knowing) that I will be missed as much as I miss and that I have and will make as much of an impact on the members of this group as I feel they have made on me.  I would not trade this experience for anything and I hope that I will be blessed enough to be able to take part in it again next year.  I have made many new friends through this program and it has taught me many valuable life lessons that will forever guide me and teach me.  Seeing these issues up close and personal made a world of a difference in the way I view service and it really showed me how much it is needed; everywhere, not just here in New Orleans.  I will continue to learn from this past week for the rest of my life and I am so thankful to have been chosen to accompany my fellow NOLA members on this journey. 

Jack Ritchie

 The other day I went to Blair Grocery to help work on their farm/garden. When we showed up there was no one to tell us what to do or give us any instruction on what to do. We ended up talking and decided to instead of stand around do something useful and go to ARC. ARC is an organization that does things from run a garden, operate a soup kitchen to sorting beads that are donated to them after Mardi Gras and sell them back to people. When we showed up we were greeted by Margaret and showed us around the building. We meet many of the workers there but the one I spent most of my time with was Terence. Terence is a mentally disabled worker with the most likable and energetic attitude. Within the first ten minutes he was showing us how to do the Miley Cyrus dance and how to dance the Wobble. He was having so much fun and it was affecting everyone around us. Now sorting beads is most definitely not the most fun job you could have, it gets old real fast but when Terence was around he was a ball of fun and energy making even the most boring jobs bearable and a little fun. It wasn't till tonight that i really understood that its the people you work with and their attitude that make things enjoyable and this year the group of kids that are down here are making this the best and most memorable week of my entire life. This week has flown by faster than it should because i have been having so much fun, more fun than i ever could have had on a regular vacation so I'm really glad that I decided to join the group, it is the best decision of my life. The friends and memories i made this week i hope will stay with me forever.