For several years, Monsignor Donovan has held a mission trip in Haiti for students who are interested and willing to pay the quite expensive funds. This year, nineteen Donovan girls and three faculty members set out for a less expensive, serviced filled trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. Yuran and Mrs. McGehee worked together to formulate a mission trip that more students would be able to attend within the United States. The NOLA trip was filled with hard work, laughter and fun!
On Thursday, November 15, 2012, two MDCHS vans left campus to journey on the nine hour ride to New Orleans. Buses were thriving off of new bonding and memories being made with lower and upper classmen. As the students and teachers patiently arrived in New Orleans, Mr. Yuran awaited them with keys to a comfortable hotel room. The sun rose early starting day one of the NOLA trip at 7:15 am. We met in the hotel lobby to make sandwiches and pack lunches for our first day, which consisted of gutting the inside of a Hurricane Isaac victim’s home. After breakfast everyone boarded the buses and made their way to the St. Bernard Project office for orientation. There we met many inspired volunteers as eager as we were to work. The girls, Mrs. Conner, Mrs. McGehee and Mr. Yuran boarded the buses for another short ride to Braithwaite, a town that has been forgotten about, but was hit extremely hard by the most recent hurricane, Hurricane Isaac in late August.
The first day of work in New Orleans was very emotional for many of the girls. As we approached the city of Braithwaite, we drove past many houses, cars and items thrown and left on the side of the roads. Seeing the houses and personal items of families affected by the hurricane was very difficult and moving for many of the students. Arriving at the destination, the girls jumped out of the buses and started unloading the truck of supplies from St. Bernard. There were two houses that needed to be worked on that day. One was almost finished being gutted but needed a few more hours of work until it would be completed, while the other had not been touched since being moved across the yard by the flooding water of Hurricane Isaac.
I was put with the group that would take on the task of gutting the second home. Before we even entered the home, emotions began to pour out seeing the destruction of something that someone used to live in and cherish. After a seven hour work day, our group of about twelve girls gutted the entirety of a three bedroom/two bathrooms home. This included removing dry wall and insulation, carpet, a fridge, washer and dryer, kitchen and bathroom sinks, a toilet as well as moldy dirt and leftover debris. Not to mention all personal items such as: clothes, toothbrushes, stuffed animals, journals, pictures and medical records left behind by the previous owners. This traumatic experience left many of the girls thankful for the roof over their head at night and the things they had been given back at home. Although we did not get the chance to meet the family who once lived in this home, we all walked away feeling like we had known them our whole lives.
Day two began the same as the first, breakfast and lunches in the lobby. After we all ate and prepared for another day of service, we boarded the buses and headed over to Our School at Blair Grocery in a Ninth Ward neighborhood. This organization teaches children within the ninth ward different types of growing food through more healthy ways. They started with one block of land and very few crops, but have expanded immensely and now cover a good bit of the street. Children come after school to plant and grow different types of crops, and sometimes go with the volunteers to the market on Saturdays to sell their crops. Our School at Blair Grocery sells their food to many restaurants within New Orleans and helps the Lower Ninth Ward as much as they can. When talking to Turner during our day of moving compost, feeding animals and learning healthy ways to grow and eat food, we asked him if he enjoyed the city of New Orleans. His response was quite moving and shocking. He stated, “I hate New Orleans. That is why I came here to help.” Turner, like many New Orleans residence, explained to us that its not always the city of New Orleans that people love so much, it’s the culture, the environment and the especially the people.
The third day of our mission trip was labeled a “rest day.” We began the day later than usual, had a small breakfast and started on our walk to the St. Louis King of France Cathedral located in the heart of the French Quarter. Going to Mass in this church was very different than church in Donovan’s gym. This cathedral is filled with beautiful paintings up and down the walls and ceilings, as well as stain glass windows and statues everywhere. It was a beautiful Mass and a gorgeous day for shopping and tourism. Sunday was filled with admiring the beautiful and unique art mounted on the fence of Jackson Square and fun times with friends. It was a day that allowed us to see a different side of New Orleans than what we had been working in. Although this day did not contain much rest, it was one of many of our favorite parts of the trip and we are thankful we were given the opportunity to “run free” and explore the unique city of New Orleans.
Monday was our last full day, and one of the most detailed days. We were separated into two different groups again. One group went with Mrs. Conner to a home that needed dry wall hung and insulation, while the other went with Mrs. McGehee to paint and lay tile. Painting was very messy, but a lot of fun and somewhat relaxing. Laying tile is a lot harder than it may seem, and can be extremely sticky! As for hanging dry wall, it was difficult, precise and very frustrating. Many of the girls said it took a lot of thinking and measuring, which would sometimes end in failure. But it tested their patience and was a team sport for sure! Tuesday was our last and final day in New Orleans. We packed up our bags and headed out for finishing touches in the houses from Monday. Although all the girls and teachers were exhausted by this time, we pushed through the tiredness and gave 110% to our painting, tile and dry wall. Before we left, the homeowner of the house needing dry wall and insulation, Sandy, made everyone necklaces and gave each of us one. She was very sweet and thankful for everything we did as a group for her and her home. After we said all our goodbyes, we boarded the buses for the last time and started our journey back to Athens!
Overall, the mission trip to New Orleans was a success! As a group we grew closer together, in working with others to help those in need. The impact New Orleans gave to our community will be one that last for a life time. I would definitely recommend this wonderful trip to anyone interested in learning more about different communities and cultures through service and good deeds. Let’s hope next year more MDCHS students will be able to attend the mission trip to New Orleans!
By: Ansley Jordan