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Spring break service trip offers humbling experience, opportunity to make change

By Brooke Constance White
On March 31, 2011

  • Ahkiel White, a University of Rhode Island senior, forces opposing Old Dominion receiver out of play during the 3rd quarter of Saturday's Football game at Meade Stadium. Teresa Kelly

The first day of spring break, I spent the entire day on a bus with 50 other students. It might sound like an awful beginning of break, but it was the first day of one of the best weeks of my life.

The 28-hour drive to New Orleans was definitely worth it and it was actually really fun being on a bus with all of my friends from the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Rhode Island and people from the several other schools who came with us.

When we got to New Orleans, we were working with an organization called the St. Bernard Project and were going to different sites to help rebuild or do whatever work was needed to continue the community's recovery process from Hurricane Katrina. As we drove through the streets, it was very humbling to see how many houses and buildings are still in deplorable and unlivable condition.

The first day we were working at a house, finishing the walls by putting joint compound on the drywall and also putting up drywall where it was still needed. While we were working at the house, the homeowners came by and wanted to talk to us, hug us and extend an open dinner invitation any time we were in town. The wife told us that every nail we hammered, every bit of paint we brushed on, everything we were doing was bringing them one step closer to coming home again. It has been six years since this wonderful couple has been home.

They said they were looking forward to having a huge 20th wedding anniversary celebration in their rebuilt house. I can't speak for everyone who was I was working with, but I know hearing this made my eyes well up with tears. I was suddenly struck with the realization that these were real people – just like you and me – real people who haven't been able to come home in six years.

While we were there, we stayed at a local church with about 120 other students from schools in the New England area. Our housing arrangements weren't ideal. Everyone was going to bed and getting up at different times, people were loud, it was hot and so sometimes, it was hard to sleep.

Ninety girls had to share eight showers, three toilets and two mirrors. Even though it was frustrating sometimes, I think we all got a sense that it wouldn't have felt right to sleep in a nice hotel when the people we were helping were living in one-room apartments with many other family members until their homes were livable again.

By about mid-week, I stopped hearing my fellow students complaining about where we were living. Even though it was nothing like what the people of New Orleans endured in the weeks after Katrina hit and are even still enduring today, we were experiencing the smallest percentage of what they experienced.

This spring break was one of the best weeks of my life. I met amazing people, I got to help people in need, I gained a new perspective on life and I realized that I want to help people for the rest of my life. If you ever get the chance to serve someone in need, do it. It's addicting. Once you help one person, you'll never want to stop.

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