Thursday, March 27, 2014

Last Day with United Saints :(

Today was our final day of volunteering with United Saints L For the third day, we went to the Stokes house, where we finished applying the first coat of paint on the whole house. We started the second coat on the side where the main road is, the front, and the porch. Today was warmer than yesterday, but towards the end of the day, it started to rain. We all had a lot of fun seeing the progression of the paint on the house and interacting with the family. Today, the little boy that lives in the house came outside to play and help us paint the house. We got to celebrate at lunch today with freezies! The house looks really good and a lot of us conquered our fear of heights and stepped out of our comfort zones by being so far off the ground.

At the end of the day, we had to close up the site and packed everything into our truck instead of storing it in the shed. It was kind of sad leaving the site because since peoples’ spring breaks are coming to a close, they probably won’t have time to get back out there to finish a second coat on the back as well as painting the trim of the house.

Working with this organization on this house has opened our eyes to see how much of a difference we can make to a community that is struggling to pick itself up after the hurricane that happened almost 10 years ago. It made us realize that there is so much to still be done here for the people that are disabled or for people who just don’t have the funds to repair their home.

We are nearing the end of our trip and we have had the opportunity to experience and tour the city to see the damage that has occurred, meet people who have been through the effects of the hurricane, and to be able to participate in helping a family rebuild their lives. We have been exposed to a new culture and a different type of people showing how diverse our country is.

Tonight a group of us are going on a cemetery tour with Emma, one of our project leaders, which we really connected with. Afterwards, another group of us are going on a ghost tour of the French Quarter.

- Kristen and Tina :) 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Another Day at the Stokes' house!

Hello everyone,

Today, the weather was not so good! It was really cold, but as usual NOLA Catalyst make a positive difference in New Orleans every day. As my friend Nate mentioned, we returned today to Stokes' house because we  (Catalyst) group decided to go again and try to finish it. This house is very huge and long ( 2 house combined ) so we started painting were we stopped yesterday ( from north side)  and after long day almost finish it. Rebuild and painting houses together with United Saints (our host) to the most vulnerable people like Stokes' family was a great opportunity for us.  Every morning we wake up with energy and get ready to help out this community. Today, we got a great chances to meet with couple of their neighbors. They came to us to thank us for doing something very beneficial to their neighbor. One of them was a very surprised when we told him that we are from Minnesota.

Also, for the last two days, we had a two great supervisors on this site, Emma and Will. Both they were not only supervisor, but were trainers. "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime" (Unknown author). Similarly,  Emma and Will changed us a lot! They equipped us yesterday with knowledge of using power tools, techniques, and latter. For that reason, we didn't need a lot of training today. That's why I believe that today was much easier than yesterday.


Day 4: More painting at the Stokes' House!

 Day 4 -

We returned to the Stokes' house today for a rather chilly day of painting. New Orleans had cooled down to the lower sixties, a cold snap in the bayou. The house went from a rather dismal, peeling white to a much fresher coat of light brown. Painting took up pretty much the entire work day, but seeing the house take on a more pleasant look of light brown and watching the faces of the Stokes' young children (roughly four and two each) from the windows made the day worth while.

Our group ventured out and tasted some authentic New Orleans food tonight, our choices consisting of roast beef or fried shrimp po' boys (sub sandwiches with lettuce and other toppings, named po' boys because they refer to "poor boy's (food), or what a working class person would eat) and some of the famous Café du Monde's beignets (square, deep-fried puff pastries topped with powdered sugar). Not exactly health food, but New Orleans's foods are worth it.

Tomorrow we will probably return to the Stokes' house to finish the three-day project.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 2! Sunshine, paint, and poetry

Hey ya'll!

It was a fun-filled day here in New Orleans. We woke up freezing because of a window being open all night but luckily the sun was up and shining and the sky was a pure blue. We had the pleasure of volunteering for the Stokes family from 9-4 where we put the first coat of paint on their house. It was a little chilly with the wind but we all got lots of vitamin D so we were happy (even with burned faces). Many of us were uncomfortable standing on tall ladders at first but we became pros as the day wore on.

We volunteered with two site supervisors: Emma and Will. They were both interesting and energetic people who had lots of stories to tell and guidance to provide. We liked them and the site so much that we're hoping to go back tomorrow. We painted the house brown from a dismal, peeling white. The radio was playing and people were singing all afternoon.

One of the highlights was the family's children coming home from school and seeing their house a completely different color on the front. Tina and Nur said their faces were priceless and it was the defining moment of the day.

The whole family was very generous and kind. One man insisted that Alyssa, Nate and I try the catfish he had just bought and offered up large portions. This is a great example of the prevalent southern hospitality that we've been experiencing all week. Everybody has been extremely welcoming and have gone out of their ways to learn about who we are and what we're doing. We talked as a group about how New Orleans seems to be a family. Each person we've met has expressed a deep love for the city and we've been told a couple times that once you to go New Orleans a piece of it lives in you.

We can feel this already. Some of us are already planning trips back. The city is rich with history, beauty, and genuine, soulful people.

The latter part of the day was spent with Hamline alumni Tony Wilson. Tony actually first ventured to New Orleans through Hamline's Catalyst trip and loved it so much he proceeded to move down here right after graduation. He now is a spoken word artist and hip hop lyricist. He invited us into his home, his girlfriend cooked us delicious Mexican food, and we had a night filled with the presence and talents of five incredible spoken word artists. This was definitely the highlight of my day, maybe even week so far.

The artists were full of eloquence, wisdom, and passion. They performed pieces that addressed racism, body image, feminism, and social justice. Each performer's style was distinct and impressive in a unique way. It was a truly one of a kind experience and we were lucky and grateful for Tony who invited us into his studio and planned such a cool evening for us.

Overall it was a fun, eye-opening day in the city! By the end we were all ready for bed and excited for the other adventures to come.


Day 3 - March 25th - Painting a Home and a Poetry Slam


We started our day with choosing a volunteer site and chose to paint a home owned by the Stokes family.  We worked on painting a side of the home as well as others also working on carpentry works and filling holes on the wall.  For the entire time, the breeze was cool and the sun was sending us warm positive vibes.  

The people living in the home were so sweet.  They gave some delish catfish to Ella, Alyssa, and Nate.  After hours of painting, one of the residents walked to see our work and said the home looked brand new.  We are definitely coming to volunteer again to work more on painting the home of the Stokes.  

Towards the end of the day, we went to go listen to a poetry slam hosted in the home of Hamline Alumni Tony Wilson.  He invited various poets in the community of New Orleans.  

We also ate Mexican food cooked by another Hamline Alumni named Cat, which was also delish.

All of the poets emphasized and touched the topic of self-worth and body image.  

One line of poetry from a poet named Hero44 went like this:

The Creator doesn't see our flaws, 

Only WE do...

Whether it's the flaws than we find on our own bodies or that our beings don't exactly fit into narrow categories, we are still flawless.  The poet Hero44 was very adamant about this.

Another line by poet Hero44 was:

We are our scratches, scars, wounds, marks, and past...

Despite so much pain and hardships the community of New Orleans faces, we cannot forget their smiling faces and welcoming hospitality.  We spoke to the poets of how tight knit the communities are around here and that they also welcome us as one of their own.  There was other topics with so  much more poetry and dialogue to absorb and grow from.
As a reflection exercise when we left Wilson's home, each of us went over the highs and lows of the day.  After this activity, we prepared for bed to rest for the next day ahead.

More lovely experiences to come! :) 


Monday, March 24, 2014


Hi friends!

I write to you with a warm heart, open mind, and beautiful weather outside our windows.  We are hoping the snow will be gone by the time we return :)

Today was our first day of service and it was a blessing.  We began our day with breakfast and a quick meeting with the United Saints project manager.  The Hamline team went to assist at the Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO).   While there, we saw many dogs and cats that needed love and attention.

We each organized, scrubbed, and mopped, but we were also given the opportunity to interact with the animals.  It was nice to walk and play with the animals that we were helping.  The individuals running the organization are extremely dedicated and compassionate people.  They shared stories and showed great appreciation for our hard work.  This compassion is a trait that flows through the blood of the many people I have already had the fortune of learning from here in NOLA.

Our reflection session was fun and forced us to become creative with the team experience.  My group sang a rendition of the song "My Girl."  We changed the lyrics to interpret the ray of sunshine and hope that ARNO is for the animals and other animal shelters in the area.  We are thinking of taking the song to American Idol ;)

It was a special beginning to our learning experience and we can't wait to share more with ya'll !


Day 2 (March 24th): Volunteering with ARNO

Hey y’all!

It’s Alyssa writing this blog post! Today we started off our rainy, chilly morning with breakfast at 7am. After some bagels and cereal, the director of United Saints, Daryl, talked about the options for volunteering we had for the day.

Our group had the opportunity to work with ARNO, Animal Rescue of New Orleans. ARNO was an organization founded after Hurricane Katrina around October of 2005 and they were first responders to the animals impacted by the hurricane. Originally, people who came to help with Katrina relief who were from California ran the organization, but after a few months, local folks took over ARNO. We learned that ARNO helped over 10,000 animals return home or find new homes after Katrina. But unfortunately, 8 years later, Katrina continues to impact the silent community of our animal friends.

            While at ARNO, our group did a variety of work. We were able to spend time with the animals, while walking them, cleaning their cages, washing their food dishes and organizing their clean beds and towels in storage. Most of the animals we worked with are relatives and descendants of animals who were put out on the street due to Katrina. Some of the animals we worked with were waiting to be adopted, and others were feral and were in rehabilitation to learn how to socialize with humans. Overall, it was really cool to get to work with the animals of New Orleans, because this furry community is one that is often left out of the conversation because the cannot speak up for themselves. It was a good reminder of how important it is to use our voices and energy to love them and advocate for them. 

            After volunteering, we returned to our apartment and relaxed before reflection. For tonight’s reflection, we broke off into four groups of 3 people, and we had about 15 minutes to come up with anything we wanted to incorporate our feelings. One group made their own New Orleans rendition of “My Girl,” by changing the lyrics to fit their experiences today. The other groups chose to do some poems. My group wrote a little haiku…

            The silent victims

            and still we are cleaning up

            saving them with love.

Each line had a special meaning to each of us. I thought about how these animals have no one to speak up for them, so they are often left forgotten and quieted, and how non-kill animal shelters like this advocate for animal rights. Hannah contributed the second line the amount of work it takes each day to keep that shelter running. The women who we saw run ARNO had so much on their plate, and we were exhausted after one day, but these women, along with other long-term volunteers, do it daily. Nate thought of the closing line of the haiku, because he said really enjoyed being around the animals, and that’s one of the best ways to show them our love.

            After reflection, we ate pizza for dinner with other groups who are volunteering with the United Saints. Then we got dressed for a night out in the French Quarter. We had beignets, went souvenir shopping and even saw some other Hamline students on the STLF trip. It’s currently almost 11pm, and I’ve had a long, but incredible full second day in the Big Easy. I’m looking forward to another day of service tomorrow.