'I'm in a completely unfamiliar place trying new things'
Point Park student Kelly Cline, who is double-majoring in photojournalism and global cultural studies, was among 11 Point Park students on the 2010 alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans, La. During "Breakout in the Bayou," the students combined sightseeing in the Big Easy with vigorous volunteer work helping build houses for victims of Hurricane Katrina as part of the Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge.
Cline, from South Williamsport, Pa. agreed to keep a journal and share her photographs of the trip, along with housemate Chelsey Engel. Below is Cline's account of her week in New Orleans.
2/28/2010, 12:30 AM
Packing for my first flight was a lot less hectic then I imagined. I think I successfully managed to not forget any essentials, including worker gloves and bandanas to properly fit in around the work area. A 6 a.m. flight may not be extremely appealing but I like to think that the earlier I leave, the sooner I can reach Louisiana. The excitement of boarding the plane is building and I can only hope that I don’t get awkwardly stopped by security and that my luggage makes it safely to my destination. Either way, I will make the best of the situation and enjoy my time in the 60-degree weather in Louisiana.
Imagine that people in Pittsburgh will still be wearing snow boots and winter coats while I can wear sandals and a T-shirt without getting strange looks from people. The culture of the area around New Orleans has to be captivating and I cannot wait to immerse myself in the area.
2/28/2010, 11:30 PM
Alligator. That is what is digesting in my stomach. My first two flights, including a layover in Chicago, were a success. I would describe the first take-off as a rollercoaster ride, complete with speedy initial acceleration and twist and turns. I had an interesting experience sleeping at the airport terminal while waiting to board the second flight. A man was attempting to teach us Southern slang. Sadly, I failed to remember much.
I had a friendly welcome at the church, which will be my home for the next week. I never got the chance to sleep in bunk beds before so I am now getting a chance to catch up on my childhood. I chose the top bunk, figuring that I should go big or go home, which I was not planning on doing.
Back to the random beginning. The group ventured to Mulate’s, which is a world-famous restaurant that serves swamp animals as entrees. I had never tasted seafood prior to this adventure and I soon found fried shrimp and alligator on my plate. The alligator reminded me of chicken, which is why I had little difficulty eating it. Complete with Cajun music and beautiful elderly couples dancing the night away, there was nothing more I could have asked for.
Overall, the trip is amazing and it has barely begun. I am in a completely unfamiliar place trying new things.
3/1/2010, 10:57 PM
The alarm went off at 7 a.m. but I was not quite functioning properly until at least 8, when my stomach was filled with breakfast and our orientation began. It was nice to finally meet the other college students that I will be working alongside throughout the week.
As many know or at least should be familiar with, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans almost 5 years ago. What people are not so familiar with is that so many people are still suffering from the damage the massive storm.
We headed to the Lower Ninth Ward, the area that was most severely hit by the hurricane. Houses were falling apart, many still marked with the symbols from the rescue teams describing if there any bodies found in the homes. We headed to meet up with Ward ‘Mack’ McClendon, who heads a community center and aims to provide some hope to the struggling area. He put a smile on my face as he spoke to us, explaining his vision of creating a walk-in movie theatre and using a new stage for performances.
Mack’s friends also received a visit from our group. His proclaimed mentor, Smitty, was able to give us a tour of his home that was being remodeled after the storm. Volunteers’ sleeping bags and belonging were seen lying on the floor, proving their dedication to helping a survivor of the hurricane.
Ronald W. Lewis, another friend of Mack, showed us his amazing collection of belongings pertaining to the history of Mardi Gras and New Orleans. All three men made me feel a little happier knowing that there are people making a positive difference in the suffering area.
There are approximately 75% of the people in the Lower Ninth Ward who are still displaced from their homes. How has the government allowed this? How have they turned away from the situation? Elderly people are literally dying while waiting to get back into their homes. Will the city ever return to its previous condition? I am saddened at the lack of help and can only attempt to reach out and ask for more help from the people who care.
And the work begins! Our group finally arrived at the worksite and the job finally became real. Multiple unfinished houses stood in front of us, just asking to be completed. The skilled workers were more than capable of completing the projects, but I was excited to know that I was being asked to take part in something so worthy as building homes for people who really deserve them.
I soon found myself soiled from mud and dirt, but instead of being upset at this, everyone in our group laughed as people became stuck in the gooey substance. It became a way to prove that you had worked hard, or at least been unlucky enough to step in the wrong spot.
The only way to finish out a day of hard work is to reward myself and take a trip to the local Goodwill to find awesome bargains on the most hideous clothes the group could possibly find. I am proud to be the owner of some new items of clothing that will surely cause strange looks as I walk past. Dare to be different, or at least dare to be a little weird.
Could you please be quiet? After being told that our girl-discussion was too boisterous and distracting, I assumed the position of reflecting on the day. I have grown close to the members of my group. We have known each other for only a few days but I am already getting to know them so well.
Many of us matched wonderfully in our attractive flannels shirts. Compliments were plentiful as the trained professionals witnessed us arrive at the work site. Sadly, I was wearing a flannel shirt that I had owned prior to the trip and many still thought it had been purchased at the Goodwill. Regardless, we were stylish and worked our gear as we continued our jobs on the site.
A road trip to Starbucks completed our day and provided an award for a long day’s work. We probably caused a scene at the café, rearranging the furniture to accompany our needs. That didn’t bother us though because we celebrated the halfway point in New Orleans and looked forward to the rest of the week.
Goal of the day: Reach as close to the roof of one of the future homes as possible.
Status: Mission somewhat completed.
I may not have ventured upon a rooftop of one of the houses, but I did climb a ladder to the top of a shed that is nearly completed.
We had the pleasure of meeting a future homeowner. It was awesome to finally meet someone who is receiving a home like the one that the Point Park group was building. This made the trip a lot more personal and put into perspective how appreciative people are of Habitat for Humanity.
The weather was nearly unbearable, not because of it being too cold, but because it was so beautiful I could barely contain myself. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping in celebration of the clear skies. Our work seemed to go by so quickly because we were enjoying the conditions and not focusing on the labor.
I am successfully sunburned for the first time of the year. I never would have thought that I would be in this condition in the beginning of March. Thank you Louisiana.
I put on my dirt-covered jeans and obnoxiously colored plaid shirt for the last time during my alternative spring break trip today. Wearing the “appropriate” work attire, I successfully placed siding on a shed with the help of other students and workers.
The homes that Habitat for Humanity builds are beautiful pieces of architecture and I feel blessed to have been able to join in and contribute to the future homes of worthy people. The story that homeowner Season Swanson told and the gratitude she expressed towards volunteers like the students from Point Park really proved to me that volunteers are needed and this effort has to be continued.
I feel both accomplished and saddened to know that I won’t be returning to work on the site tomorrow. Being able to build a house now doesn’t seem so far out of reach because of the things I’ve learned and the skills I’ve acquired.
The night had a perfect ending, complete with a bonfire, s’mores, and friendly faces from both Point Park and another group of college volunteers. We sat around, played music, and enjoyed the final night of being together.
“We can just stay here and continue working, right?”
I have been joking around with people the entire week about not wanting to leave Louisiana and the Habitat for Humanity site. These once comical phrases are now turning into the truth. I really don’t want to leave.
Regardless of the early mornings and sweaty labor, the experience that I had on this trip can never be replaced or reproduced.
The people that I met on this trip, including the students both from Point Park and other colleges, the AmeriCorps volunteers, and future and current homeowners, have made a lasting impression on my life.
People often ask me what I want to do with my life after I graduate from college and I think I finally have some concrete idea. This trip has opened my eyes to opportunities for people just like myself.
Why shouldn’t I give back to people in need? There is really no acceptable answer for that question. The workers on the site that came from AmeriCorps gave the entire group a look at what people have the chance to do around the country. They have inspired me to follow in their footsteps and help to improve the world in which I live in, even if the change is only a slight improvement.
If it weren’t for the small changes, there would be no large-scale evolution. I pledge to dedicate my time and efforts in the belief that the world can progress.
After all, I need another reason to bring smiles to people’s faces with my plaid shirt. Can’t let the work gear go to waste.