New Orleans 2018
Thursday, March 22 the New Orleans group left at 5:00AM and arrived back to UW Oshkosh at 10:10PM. We made as few stops as possible and, honestly, the drive back in one day was easier than splitting up the drive down. After we returned safely to campus we parted ways. Since it was just a drive back there wasn’t much to blog about, so we decided to take a different approach to this last blog post and share our thoughts on the whole trip.
Emily W.: “This trip has been life changing for me. I have learned so much about myself and the impact such a small amount of people can have on a community and that we all have the ability to tackle issues that are important to us. I met so many people who were so dedicated to their causes, and it was really inspiring to see the love these people have for their city. I have seen in myself how much a positive attitude about the tasks at hand can change the outcome of your experiences. It’s not fun to pull weeds every day, but doing it in a group and having the right mentality makes it so much better. I want to be able to bring the skills I have learned in NOLA back home and be able to use them to help my various communities as best I can.”
Clare: “One thing I really took away from this trip is a sense of community. I really loved seeing how everyone was really interested in what we were doing and where we were from and it made me realize that even if we were just pulling weeds we were still making an impact on the community. I also learned a lot about myself and my ability to communicate with people who aren’t the same age as me and also with people who I have never met before. One of my favorite parts of the trip though was creating friendships with people I barely knew before going on it and exploring a new city!”
Olivia: “This trip was the best possible way I could’ve spent my spring break. The community of New Orleans was so welcoming and absolutely amazing. My understanding of service and leadership have been completely changed and I feel more committed to making an impact than ever before. Our group of ladies has a special place in my heart and has inspired me beyond what I thought was possible (as cliche as that sounds, it’s true!). To see what ten people could do in such a short trip with such a positive attitude and capacity for learning reminded me why we do service in the first place. I can’t wait to take this inspiration and servant leadership skills to our own community!”
Ann: “The biggest thing I have taken from this experience is the importance of preventing things that cause a need for volunteers. For example garbage clean up can be prevented by people not littering and using as many reusable products as possible. When I get home I am going to continue to educate myself on correct issues from reliable, truthful sources. I am also going to do my part to not contribute to the problem. I will do this by always keeping an open mind and being responsible with my uses of resources.”
Emily T.: “This week has given me the opportunity to not only give to another community but to also bring back what has impacted me back to my community. I loved the relationships I built with others on this trip and how well we worked together as a team. It’s hard to believe what little things we can do can make a big statement. I’m entirely inspired in every way in New Orleans and in the people I shared this experience with. I honestly couldn’t ask for more or less; this trip was what I needed to continue to give back.”
Jackie: “This week has been a wonderful whirlwind! I am so impressed with how everyone in our group came together and stayed positive and engaged all week through long car rides, hot temps with high humidity, a few sprinkles, and 15,000 plus steps each day! The empathy and compassion our group members exhibited was so motivating to me as the advisor and I am beyond proud of how everyone brought their strengths and passions to the table. I loved how we were able to split our time between our volunteer work and connecting to the people and history of New Orleans and Louisiana. It really helped connect what we were doing to the impact we were actually having in the communities we were serving. I think we all walked away from this trip having learned something new about ourselves and having gained a greater perspective. one quote that is really sticking with me is from our afternoon with Miss Dolfinette. She said, ‘Once you know the truth, you can’t unknow the truth.’ The more we learn about, and interact with people who have different experiences than us broadens our definition of truth. I am looking forward to further personal reflection on this trip and reconnecting with the amazing group of women again later this spring.”
Madison: “The volunteer trip to New Orleans truly allowed me to discover more about myself than I ever thought possible. I discovered my desire to help others was greater than I could ever imagine. I found that my ability to connect with others on such a personal level grew with each new volunteer task we had. I loved being able to immerse myself in the culture of New Orleans. Learning about the history of the city, being able to explore the French Quarter (Jackson Square specifically), and trying the famous beignets from Cafe Du Monde were a couple of my favorite memories! I never wanted to leave! Additionally, I really loved how the community was so very welcoming and appreciative of our work. It definitely made pulling weeds day in and day out entirely worth it! I was able to gain friendships with the most amazing and selfless people who had me laughing constantly. Our group had the most positive attitudes I have ever seen people have. No matter our situation, we were able to maintain our upbeat, fun, and caring personalities (especially with our van being towed on day 5 of the trip!) Every member on this trip has a heart of pure gold when it comes to helping others and it truly inspired me to want to better myself as a volunteer and individual life. My time in New Orleans changed my entire perspective on life and what it truly means to serve the community. I feel absolutely blessed to have been given this opportunity to help others and create friendships with people whom I will never forget. Thank you for an amazing trip NOLA! (I also loved, of course, the stretching breaks during stops!)”
Kalee: “The trip impacted me in many ways. It allowed me to see how important community truly is and how my actions, all our actions, can have such an impact on the world. It challenged me to think about the world around us. I was able to see first hand the impact we’re making on the environment, the importance of community and taking care of one another, insight into our broken criminal justice system, and so much more. Also, we had an awesome group! I loved getting to know the people we worked with and were able to meet. It was a life changing experience!”
Karis: “This trip was so incredible. Working with 9 wonderful women who were willing to give up their spring break to serve others was so inspiring. I loved getting to know them all. It was also amazing to learn about the history of New Orleans and the love that the community has for their city. The whole experience was incredible, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Natasha: “New Orleans was life altering in many ways. I’ve known for the last several years that I want to live in a big city but New Orleans showed me that it’s best to find a city that still holds onto their culture. Learning about the history and the culture helped add even more meaning to the volunteer work that we were doing. This trip showed me that gardening volunteer work may not be my strong suit but that being able to make even a small impact in someones life is worth the work and effort. Along with that I’ve had the opportunity to run the trips blog all week and I’ve learned that I wouldn’t mind being a blogger/social media person for organizations like this. I had so much fun getting to see all sides of New Orleans and share them with all of you readers. So, until next time New Orleans.”
Well, this is it, the last day in New Orleans (and we did it right). We started our day with our whole group making it to breakfast around 7 and then we left Camp Restore around 8:30. We went to Lake Pontchartrain (more like an estuary because it is a mix of salt water and river/rain water). We worked with the Basin Foundation which is an organization that is just trying to bring back the wetlands and save the lake and help prevent things like Hurricane Katrina. They were able to open up the lake in 2001 after water testing showed it was clear but after Katrina they had to close for a bit again. So our journey took us to Bayou Saint John (which is a natural waterway, a route that was first taken by the French to find the city of New Orleans, it was the very first waterway used for New Orleans) and when we got to the bayou the flood gate was open (they open it once a month to freshen the lake water and make sure the gate still works).
Now here’s the exciting bit from our volunteering today, we were about 10 minutes into volunteering when we were all told to immediately rush back. Apparently the flood gate workers saw a gator in the marsh we were all working next to (unfortunately we didn’t spot the gator ourselves). After about a ten minute wait the workers lost sight of the gator we were sent back to work on clean up, we all stayed safe and the gator was not seen the rest of the time. During our clean up we found a vertebrae to something, but mostly it was straws and plastic bottle caps. A lot of us talked about how doing this volunteer activity specifically impacted us and felt like something we could bring back and change in Oshkosh/where we are from.
After we finished up at the bayou we returned to lighthouse we started at. We were given a tour of the lighthouse, learned all about it’s history. So at lighthouse there is the new basin canal that used to go all the way to where the Superdome is. This was a passageway made by the Americans who didn’t want to share with the French. First lighthouse in 1839 didn’t do so well and two lighthouses later, 1890, that one stood for about 100 years until Katrina. After Katrina they rebuilt the lighthouse and used several of the same shutters and other pieces they were able to save from the previous one. Tom Benson (RIP) helped rebuild the lighthouse after Katrina with a substantial financial donation. So then before we left we drew with chalk on the ground “UWO AB 2018” and took our picture with it. Then we headed back to Camp Restore for our speaker.
So earlier this week we talked about how we fundraised a large sum to buy things like feminine products, shampoo, and toothbrushes/toothpaste for the organization Voice of the Experienced. This organization was founded and is run by people who were formerly incarcerated. This organization focuses on policy and law–real reform that effects change and release. One interesting fact that was taken away is we learned that Victoria’s Secret PINK underwear is made by people incarcerated. After talking with Dolfinette Martin, lead organizer for VOTE, a lot of us started questioning what we can do for people incarcerated back in Oshkosh/home.
After our visit with Dolfinette we got ready for our last night in New Orleans. We had a short reflection before leaving the camp at 5:15 and heading to Wednesday at the Square. This was a free event with food and live music. Some of us got this awesome combo platter, others a delicious jambalaya. People got crepes for dessert and we got listen to live music, blues and jazz. Then we walked around and looked at the vendors before we left and went to Canal Street. Canal Street is kind of like Hollywood Blvd in LA with all the palm trees and lights and shops and such for people to go to. After that we went home and now it’s playing some werewolf and going to bed because 5:00 AM leave time will be coming quick.
And now for the favorites:
Clare: “My favorite part of today was spending time at Lafayette Square listening to music and enjoying the great food!”
Karis: “I loved spending the evening in Lafayette Square and eating jambalaya.”
Ann: “My favorite part was getting to spend some time by the water and enjoy the view from the lighthouse.”
Olivia: “I loved learning about Dolfinette’s story and being inspired! It was an amazing testimony and mission!”
Kalee: “It was interesting hearing the environmental issues New Orleans is still facing and their plans for the future. My favorite part was Dolfinette’s story and the work she does!”
Emily W.: “I loved volunteering at the marsh today! It was so much fun and really showed how much trash is being put into the environment from humans and how much it can accumulate over time.”
Emily T.: “Today was probably my favorite day of volunteering. We were at risk of an alligator being present and just being with everyone made the experience much more fun and chill. It’s bittersweet to be leaving so soon already but we ended the night perfectly at the free event at Lafayette Square with good food.”
Jackie: “My favorite part of the day was learning more about the environmental science and ecology in Louisiana. I still wish we would have seen that alligator we were on the lookout for though. I really enjoyed hearing Miss Dolfinette’s story and how she turned her challenging experience into an opportunity to help others in the similar situations. Our group reflection was also really impactful and I loved hearing everyone’s thoughts and take aways from the week.”
Madison: “My favorite part of the day was being able to balance the amazing and impactful volunteering with having fun and seeing the night life! Being able to partake in the community by going to the Wednesday on the Square (my favorite was the banana crepes). Our speaker was truly inspiring today as well and I can’t wait to bring back idea for events similar to her organization here in Louisiana! (Along with the almost being eaten by a gator, but not really haha).”
Natasha: “Today showed me that I need to work on my recycling habits and stop using plastic straws/bags especially. Today really helped me understand how much I love the city life too.”
Today started much like every other day, the only difference was five of us had to get up and do breakfast this morning at 6:30. The rest of us rolled in for breakfast and lunch making between 7-7:40. After we were done with breakfast we left around 8:30 to head to the New Orleans Museum of Art. We worked with another school from Chicago inside of the NOMA Sculpture Garden. During this volunteering we learned that this sculpture garden opened up about a year before Hurricane Katrina so they had to shut down for awhile but they were lucky enough to escape with very little damage. There was very little damage because the sculptures are heavily packed into the ground. Inside the park there are around 60 pieces, currently at capacity with their sculptures so they are working on a 6-acre expansion. Our group worked on planting Louisiana Iris Blooms and weeding around them. We then added mulch to the ground. They will be having an event in a few weeks when the Iris’ are in full bloom.
One of the really awesome things about our volunteer experience today was the people from all over the states were coming through this garden and they would stop and want to talk with us. They would ask us where we are from, what we are doing there, how we got here, etc. They were all incredibly nice, and not just the tourists, the people from the community were all incredibly appreciative of the work we are doing. This really helped our group keep a positive mindset, it was a nice reminder that the work we are doing whether large or small makes a difference in every way.
After we finished our volunteering we were able to stay in the sculpture garden and go explore the actual museum too. We did that for about an hour and half after lunch before going over to this quaint little cafe named Morning Call. The service was a little rushed and not the most welcoming of places, but for the most part the food or drinks we got did taste good. It was pretty impressive that our server was able to take down all of our orders (9 of us) and come back with everything but two items.
We left the museum at three and since we still had two and half hours of free time we decided to visit the Superdome (Natasha’s favorite part thus far). It was awesome because not only did we get to see the Superdome but people were able to explore a little bit more of New Orleans. Some found a cool costume shop while others just explored the wonder that is the Superdome. Today was just a really relaxed day (which is why there isn’t as much to talk about today) and we were able to get back to Camp Restore early enough to have some actual relaxation time. Then it was dinner followed by debrief time. During debrief time we were given our letters from home. There were tears, there were laughs, everyone was happy in the end to have gotten something from home.
And now those favorite parts!
Olivia: “Interacting with the community visitors while gardening and learning more about them!”
Clare: “My favorite part of the day was talking to all of the people walking through the sculpture garden and being told we were ‘professional gardeners’.”
Ann: “Seeing how much the garden visitors appreciated our work.”
Jackie: “I loved the ‘cold’ 65 degreed day spent in the beautiful and reflective sculpture garden and working alongside the group from Chicago.”
Emily W.: “I loved walking through New Orleans and being able to interact with the community and just enjoy my time being here.”
Madison: “I loved the people in the community they were so welcoming and appreciative of our hard work and it definitely made the experience 100% better (Also, the accents and positive vibes our group has all the time).”
Karis: “I loved the spontaneity of the afternoon and exploring some of the downtown area.”
Emily T.: “The weather today was fantastic and easy going. I love how close we have gotten with each other and how much invovlement we are doing with each other in New Orleans!”
Kalee: “I loved the gardens and museum! It was so nice to be in a peaceful place filled with nature. I liked getting to talk with the people coming through the gardens and seeing the impact we made. Also our reflection time was incredible.”
Natasha: “While being able to do what we are here for is always incredible my favorite part of the day has got to be going to the Superdome! I loved being able to experience more of New Orleans but especially getting to see the Saints home, it was just a really beautiful place (even if I did spend a bit more than planned on Saints apparel).”
Today breakfast was at 7 (and for some of us we tried grits for the first time, they’re not bad) and then after breakfast we made sandwiches to take for lunch and left Camp Restore by 8:20. We headed to Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center where we worked with Friends of Lafitte Greenway. During this time we weeded invasive species like Johnson Grass and Cattails. A couple of us even tried the cattails, apparently they taste like cucumbers.
After we finished weeding we moved on to eat lunch and then we got a tour of the French Quarter. This was an incredible tour, the tour guide was so knowledgable about New Orleans and he was a ton of fun to listen too. We toured with Northeaster Illinois University starting around 2 and we learned about the tricentennial (New Orleans is officially 300 years old), we got to stand along the Mississippi River and learn a bit about the history of the French coming in to settle. We learned about how Louisiana celebrates General Andrew Jackson but not President Andrew Jackson which is why they’ve still got General Andrew Jackson’s statue up. During the tour one of the fun things we were able to see was a proposal and she said yes!
After the tour we went in the little tourist shops to buy souvenirs. We went back to Camp Restore early because on this night five of our volunteers had to help with dinner. After dinner we cleaned up and then headed to Freezy Street to get some fresh rolled ice cream. As a group we parked in a spot where we probably shouldn’t have but hoped beyond hope that we were going to be okay and not get towed. After about 30 minutes of getting our ice cream we walked outside and Vanna White was no longer with us. We all collectively came together and laughed and joked and made light of the situation. It was really a test of how strong we can all be in a crisis and trip leader Jackie handled it very professionally.
And now today’s favorite moments:
Clare: “My favorite part was trying a cattail while removing them today!”
Ann: “Learning about how the removal of statues has been effecting New Orleans and about how people can do good things but still at there core be bad people.”
Olivia: “Watching how everyone found different strengths in what they were doing throughout the day.”
Madison: “I loved being able to get a sense of the history behind New Orleans during our tour guide along with getting a feel for how we can better preserve the environment for the community with things like the Lafitte Greenway! (Along with the amazing pack lunches we prepared of course, especially banana pbjs!)”
Jackie: “I loved the Lafitte Greenway! I love how a group of dedicated people committed themselves to turn a deserted former canal/railway into a beautiful and safe community space connecting areas of the city. I also loved learning more about the history of New Orleans. Our tour guide was so knowledgeable and passionate I could have listened for hours!”
Emily W.: “It has been awesome getting to explore the French Quarter and get a tour that explained some of the history. I have loved getting to know this city so far and giving back to the community.”
Karis: “Loved learned about the history New Orleans through the tour and getting to tour more of the French Quarter.”
Emily T.: “The history of New Orleans was my favorite part. I loved learning about the whys and hows of everything that’s happened in New Orleans and just enjoying the moment was great.”
Kalee: “I loved seeing the community center and everything they had to offer, such as walking pathways, outdoor workout center, workout classes, playgrounds, computer lab, and gardens. So many great ways to bring the community together!”
Natasha: “Learning about the history of New Orleans and the French Quarter after being able to go through the French Quarter with no background before. I think it was interesting to have some sort of context heading into the French Quarter tour.”
The day started around 7:45 this morning when the group left Camp Restore to go to our first volunteer activity. Since we were early we found a quaint little shop called “French Truck Coffee” to get some breakfast. The staff was incredible and super helpful to all of us lost looking people.
Our first volunteer activity was at Valence Cemetery with “Save Our Cemeteries”. This organization preserves tombs because the preservation of memories of loved ones is very important to the New Orleans culture. During our time at the cemetery we weeded around the tombs and picked up trash for about an hour. After that we ended up scrubbing tombs and the difference was amazing!
We ended up getting Jimmy John’s for lunch and eating at the cemetery. That was pretty neat and it only rained on us a little today. Once we finished volunteering we drove towards our activity for the day. We drove aimlessly through the French Quarter for about 20 minutes just trying to find a parking spot but after that was rendered futile we just found a parking lot and after realizing it was $30 per car we decided to try and find another one. After finally finding a parking lot we walked through the French Quarter (which was really cool but we get a tour of that another time, so I’m saving that for a different blog post). We went to the Presbytere (a museum) which has two exhibits: Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina. The Katrina exhibit elicited a lot of emotions for all of us, initially sadness but then awe at the way the community overcame what they went through and maintained their culture through it all. Going through the exhibit is definitely an in person experience and hard to really describe to anyone who hasn’t seen it before.
Once we were done at the museum we got the chance to explore the French Quarter a little on our own but all we did was head over to Cafe Du Monde for some beignets and hydration. Cafe Du Monde is said to have the best beignets in New Orleans, but since it’s the only place I’ve ever had beignets I cannot say if this is correct or not. They were really good though. While waiting in line for our food we had to pigeon dodge so that was fun. With beignets and drinks in hand we walked just down the sidewalk to a large set of steps and watched a street performance by Dragon Master Showcase (acrobatic breakdancers). They were funny and enticing enough to draw a very large crowd in but it was a very short lived experience. After leaving the French Quarter we returned to base and had corned beef, rice and a cabbage with carrot mix. We ended our day with a debrief of the day.
As before here are everyone’s favorite parts of the day:
Emily W.: “My favorite part of the day was being able to sit outside and eat beignets and watch the street performers.”
Clare: “My favorite part of the day was watching the street performers and enjoying the sun!”
Olivia: “Seeing everyone come together and have fun getting really muddy!”
Kalee: “Seeing the dirt instantly come off the tombs, so satisfying!”
Ann: “Getting to spend time outside while seeing and helping the community.”
Emily T.: “My favorite part was seeing the people of New Orleans and the festive side of the town.”
Jackie: “My favorite part was our group really connecting and enjoying the dirty work.”
Madison: “My favorite part was everyone maintaining positive attitudes and having a fun time together no matter what we are doing (along with the beignets + stretching of course).”
Karis: “Singing Disney while scrubbing the tomb “
Natasha: “My favorite part of the day was being able to watch everyone so easily come and work together despite not really knowing each other before this trip.”
This morning the New Orleans group departed the good ole Pear Tree Inn located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri around 8 AM. We were in Arkansas by about 9:30. We were in Arkansas for awhile and then we passed into Tennessee for about 20 or so minutes before reaching Mississippi around 11:00. Honestly, the drive was beautiful! We got to cross over the Mississippi River and everything along the freeway was green. Oh, and the temperature was between 70-80 degrees the whole time! Even now here in New Orleans we are sitting around 75. So the drive continued through Mississippi and while there wasn’t many exciting things we did see some interesting town names like Pope and Coffeeville.
Around 3 we stopped at Walmart to buy the rest of the supplies for the donation we are making as a group. The donation we are making is for Voices of the Experienced. We raised $200 and with that money we were able to buy sports bras, shampoo and conditioner, feminine products, underwear and toothbrushes with toothpaste. This organization focuses on providing resources and restoring the civil liberties of those being released from prison, in an effort to foster opportunity and reduce recidivism.
We got to our location, Camp Restore, around 6:15. After dropping off our stuff in our bunks (we got tempur-pedic mattresses!), we got a tour of our home for the next week and then got to eat pizza.
As a last little note we wanted to share some of our favorite memories of the journey from Oshkosh:
Clare: “My favorite part was when the semi cut people off so they could stop trying to get ahead of us before their land ended!”
Emily W.: “My favorite memory was the really long bridge” (Context: This bridge was 26 miles long, in Louisiana, and basically you were just crossing water the entire time)
Ann: “The 26 mile bridge”
Jackie: “My favorite part so far was all of the laughs and getting to know each other on the ride down.”
Kalee: “Also the beauty of the bridge.”
Madison: “I just loved getting to know people so far and connecting already! (along with the stretching breaks of course)” (Context: During rest stops Madison and Kalee, sometimes Karis too, would do yoga stretches)
Olivia: “Jam sessions in the van!”
Karis: “Disney jams in the car!”
Emily T.: “Getting to know everyone and watching out for one another! Also crossing the really long 26 mile bridge was pretty cool!!”
Natasha: “Driving through the states, getting to see all of the beautiful sites, but especially when we got to the 26 mile bridge because seeing the Gulf of Mexico was a completely new experience for me.”
If you can’t tell we liked that bridge, well most of us did anways.
Keep on the look out for more updates from Vanna White and Louisivanna!!
The New Orleans group can proudly say we’ve safely made it halfway. We are in Missouri right now and we will be heading out around 8 in the morning to finish the drive. We started our journey from Oshkosh around 2 PM this afternoon. As we drove south the temperature went from 30’s to 50’s, and it has been amazing. Oh, and we get rain with lighting and thunder instead of snow! There was tons of construction, as always, but we still made excellent time even with stopping. We stayed safe on the journey down, only having to stop twice outside of getting food (which we got at Culver’s, of course). We ate on the go so we could still make it in good time. We are all incredibly excited to complete our journey on Saturday and start this amazing week of volunteering.
Sorry this post is so brief but it’s only day one of just driving. There’s plenty more to come so I hope you stick with us as we go!