I believe in giving. Not just any giving but giving that has meaning. I gave to someone—, but I didn’t give books or clothes. I would do it all over again, just to see the expression of joy and happiness in her smile on that humid afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana.
I was part of a pre-orientation program at Clark University, the summer before my freshman year. In the program, I went to New Orleans with twenty-two other incoming freshmen to help rebuild a house that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. The experience allowed me to meet incoming freshmen as well as help a family in need. They needed a house to live in and we granted their wish.
We got up every morning at six o’clock. Breakfast consisted of runny eggs and bacon that wasn’t cooked. The cafeteria smelled like sweat, heat, and food combined. The bathrooms were filled with dirt. Only one door closed and one toilet flushed. The showers were built with no doors, just curtains separating each “shower”. But those gross occurrences didn’t matter because it was worth it.
We arrived around seven o’clock each morning, exhausted and worn out from the previous day. Our leaders taught us how to use a hammer, an electric saw, as well as many other tools. We worked together to build doorframes, finish the roof, hammer in the baseboard, and other necessities for a house. Together, we gave a family a great home.
Our sweat, time, and energy combined were enough to make this project happen. We were encouraged to drink at least two gallons of water each day, working in 115 degree weather. Although three people had to go to the hospital for working too hard, we learned from those dangerous experiences.
The dedication ceremony took place on August 18. Anita Maples and her family now live in a secure environment. Anita worked as a Sterile Processing Tech. Before Hurricane Katrina, they lived in Uptown. The hurricane did not damage Uptown as much as other parts of the city. But the post-Katrina flooding was worse than anything since 1849. In this area, many old homes three feet above street level were not enough to save the house. The flooding took another foot of water above elevation. Anita and her family escaped to Texas, and they returned to find their house destroyed. Luckily, our group came to the rescue.
When Anita was given the keys, she said, “The thing I want the most is to give my children a decent home to live, so when I pass I will have left them something of mine to cherish forever.” Her gratitude manifested in the tears streaming down her face. Volunteering to help build a home for a deserving family brought us the willingness to come back. It was a great experience, which helped give a family a home as well as believing and regaining the hope they had lost on the fateful August day.
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