Saturday, March 15, 2008

Alternative Spring Breaks attract students to New Orleans

March 19, 2008
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends--

New Orleans in March was a do-gooder gathering. Thousands of different students came each week. They hammered nails. Read to kids. Built playgrounds and surveyed neighborhoods.

I've heard many times that the volunteer effort in New Orleans is the only reason why the place is where it is today. A credible argument, for sure.

But it's 2008 now, and the once-a-year week long visits are tripping some of these students up. They're stuck in a moment that down here most folks are desperately trying to put behind them. The summer of 2005 is burned in all of our brains, though, d when spring-breakers come here, these are the images that guide them.

When they look at a home with six-feet high grass and a hole in the roof, they wonder what happened to its owner.

Too often they don't wonder about the next-door-neighbor who is back. When a group of Howard University students volunteered last week doing surveying, they were asked to assess conditions of homes in some of New Orleans' flood affected homes. Good, fair or poor were the ratings.

"How is this helping the people in Houston?" a student asked fearful that what he was doing wasn't helping in the relief effort, but actually hurting.

I didn't answer it the way I needed to. I danced, trying to calm his concerns because the last thing I wanted was 200 students who drove 20 hours on a bus to get here and think they're somehow hurting the community.

What I should have said is this. The people in Houston, if they're coming back, are keeping up their homes-which typically means they're paying someone to cut their grass. The homes you see in disarray aren't coming back. Chalk it up and lets help the people who are here or who are keeping their property up remotely.

The fly-in volunteers, I hope, will move with returned residents in this paradigm shift.

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