Cleaning the Park

Samuel - Simpsonville, South Carolina
Entered on December 3, 2008
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: hope

I had never seen the true depth of human devastation until I visited the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the summer of 2007. After Hurricane Katrina’s demolishing the city in 2005, my church youth pastor, Jason, decided to take my entire youth group to the city to help with its reconstruction. Although it had been two years since the incident, the effects of the storm were still carved into the homes and hearts of New Orleans. My trip there is what brought me to my belief. I believe in hope.

My group went on this trip through our denominational outreach organization, meaning that we would be assigned to some specific job by the denomination’s coordinator in New Orleans. Upon arrival, we were assigned to “fix up a neighborhood park”. I was disappointed and thought to myself. What about cleaning out houses or building new ones?! Isn’t that what people have been doing to help here? But I had no say in the matter. I had made the decision to help in any way that I could and that’s what I was going to do.

Before I left the briefing area to go to the job site, the coordinator gave us workers one final piece of advice. “The best thing you can give these people is hope. If nothing else, you can give them hope.” And with these words, he sent us away to our job site. When we arrived at the park, we found ourselves in one of the rougher parts of the town.

I began work by cleaning the playground equipment and preparing it for a fresh coat of paint. This took a whole day. Toward the end of the day, three neighborhood kids walked into the park. They seemed interested in our work and quickly introduced themselves. The oldest, about eleven years old, introduced himself as “Snowball”. The next oldest, “Star Baby”, was about ten, and the youngest, maybe three or four years old, was “Cuda” as in barracuda. They were rough little boys and seemingly fearless.

With each passing day more people from the neighborhood showed up at the park. Some helped with the painting and lawn mowing, but most of them just came by to thank us for what we were doing. By the last day I had counted more than thirty people who had thanked us for simply cleaning up the park. I noticed the joy in Snowball, Star Baby, and Cuda’s eyes as they helped us each day. It was as if cleaning the park showed them that people cared and that the city was not going to stay dirty. Cleaning the park for those boys was the embodiment of hope. Not just for the city, but for their lives. I didn’t just help clean a park. I gave them hope, and that is why I believe in hope.