Beginning, of course, with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the once vibrant and beautiful city of New Orleans was demolished. Houses, buildings, outdoor facilities, nature, families, and lives were all thoroughly destroyed.
[However], while in New Orleans, I came to realize just what it is that makes New Orleans a place that is not only worth restoring, but is a city which absolutely must be restored. Never have I been to a city where people are more welcoming, inspiring, or hopeful than those of New Orleans.
One man in particular, the founder of “The Village,” inspired me more than I ever could have imagined. He founded the community center to have a place where kids and teenagers can gather so that they do not get involved in drugs or other illegal and dangerous activities, to have a place where the community can be together and support each other in difficult times, to provide resources for families in the community that are without basic necessities, and to lend extra academic and social support to the kids in the community who may be struggling in school.
During our time in New Orleans, my group visited “The Village” twice. Over the course of those two afternoons, we helped with many different tasks. While the community center functions well day-to-day, they need a constant stream of volunteers in order to have enough money and labor to keep the progress moving forward.
In the short time that we were there, we formed meaningful relationships with the people we worked with. However, we also came home with changed perspectives; we felt an immense sense of accomplishment after helping the community, we learned to truly appreciate what we have in our lives and not to take anything for granted, we interacted with and learned from people whose stories and life experiences are vastly different from ours, and most importantly, we experienced the unique aspects and feelings that make New Orleans one of the most valuable, special, and vitally important cities in the world.
Laura Sutherland is a junior at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, and participated in a service immersion trip in New Orleans during her February vacation, with the support of TELEM. TBS Juniors and seniors lived and breathed service during their week of volunteering, giving back to a community that needs it so badly.
To find out how to get your synagogue involved in unique service trips like this, visit our website, www.telemyouth.org.