By Schae Maynard
Schae Maynard is a senior environmental science major. After graduation, she will pursue a master’s degree in college student affairs at Grand Valley State University.
Over spring break, I had the pleasure of co-leading the Sharks and Service trip to New Orleans. This trip holds a special place in my heart as I had attended as a participant the previous year.
When I joined the SAS team as a site leader, and discovered that I would be able to not only return to that wonderful city, but have the chance to lead the trip, I was beyond hyped. I was very fortunate to be paired with an extraordinary co-leader who had also attended the trip with me last year. Being paired with the stellar Mariah Knowles made it extremely easy for us to plan our week of service, from navigating everyone’s dietary concerns to our reflection and downtime activities.
Like last year, we spent our week serving with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans (YRNO), a not-for-profit organization that specializes in the rebuilding and selling of homes to teachers at discounted rates. YRNO started out of an attempt to allow persons below the age of 18 to assist in the disaster restoration efforts after Hurricane Katrina. However, YRNO does so much more than rebuild homes, as they assess what their community needs and seek to meet those needs in a holistic way.
Before our trip a tornado had blown through the city and left significant damage to numerous homes. Thankfully, not a single person was killed during the incident. Just like YRNO, our spring break or Spreak, as we like to call it — family of 16 served the community of New Orleans in more ways than one. Our week was divided between two work sites: Miss Ann’s lot on Flake St. and the pink house on St. Ann St. The work we engaged in at Miss Ann’s house stressed why the need for volunteers and the work of organizations like YRNO are so important.
Miss Ann’s property was destroyed by the tornado and for her to rebuild, the lot needed to be cleared of all debris. This would have been difficult for her and her family to do because in order for the city to remove debris from people’s property, it must be on the curb. As we worked on her lot we had the opportunity to meet Miss Ann and got to hear her story. She shared that before our group and YRNO came, it was only her son trying to clear the lot.
The task seemed impossible for one person to do alone and I had a difficult time wrapping my head around what she was sharing with us. It took us three days to clear Miss Ann’s lot. By the end of the week, looking back at where we started on day one, I came to understand several things: 1. Always be grateful for the things in your life, 2. Teamwork is powerful, and 3. The true meaning of the word resilience.
Aside from our work at our two work sites, the best part of my week was our nightly reflections. It was rewarding to hear our participants’ thoughts about the work we were doing, the impact we were leaving on the New Orleans community and how the community and YRNO were impacting them. I loved having the chance to listen to and help our group make sense of the week. It was fulfilling to assist them in understanding how to use what they were experiencing that week, to affect change in the communities they belong to at home and at NSU.
This week reaffirmed why I love service and why I want to be able to excite others about how they can assist in solving some of the very serious social issues that plague the world we live in. I am forever thankful for organizations like YRNO, for communities like New Orleans, for groups like my Spreak family and for offices like SLCE. I am thankful for this opportunity and for the many others I have experienced through the SAS program. They have been opportunities to not only serve, but to learn and grow with others who are as passionate.
If you’re ever looking for a chance to meet new people, learn new skills, travel and learn more about different social issues all while serving diverse communities, then I highly recommend signing up for a SAS trip or to be a site leader. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I know I will forever cherish.
Photo Credit: S. Maynard
Caption: Students helped clean up debris from a tornado that hit New Orleans, a city that is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.