Student: New Orleans was like a family member
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: In June 2007, a group of 10 students traveled to New Orleans with three Vail Mountain School teachers to help rebuild the city, many parts of which are still devastated from Hurricane Katrina.
Eight of the students attend Vail Mountain School and two attend Battle Mountain High School. They are members of Vail Mountain’s Ethically Engaged Youth, a “full immersion, service program whose mission is to offer high school students a comprehensive appreciation for the cultural, economic, geographic, and political confluence that results in endemic conditions of poverty,” according to school officials.
Some of the students have submitted essays about their experience in New Orleans for publication.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA ” Almost two years ago I returned home from my fly-fishing orientation trip to see images of devastation and destruction on television screens and on front pages of new papers. It was August 2005. Hurricane Katrina had hit the New Orleans area. Having never been to New Orleans, these images seamed unreal, even surreal, and the fact that this natural disaster happened within my own country was a difficult concept for me to grasp.
When Ethically Engaged Youth offered to help, my friends and I had a real opportunity to effect change. There was some discussion of whether the trip would ever happen, but with the help of the Bolyard family we converted feelings of helplessness in to an opportunity for meaningful service work.
The two most significant aspects of our trip were its beginning and end. Arriving in the terminal of the New Orleans air port, I was both anxious and excited. People had warned us that we would be the ethnic minority in New Orleans, media had emphasized the increase in violence within New Orleans, and among all I had never been to the South. Walking through the sliding doors into the thick, hot and heavy Louisiana humidity, our group felt the sense of anticipation for what was to come. Looking around I saw the same look of uneasiness in everyone’s facial expressions: “Here we are, so let’s make the best of it.” This first impression remains one of my fondest memories. One of adventure and excitement. Little did I know of the impact that was to follow.
At the end of six days; Leaving New Orleans was like leaving a family member you might never see again under the same circumstances. We came to New Orleans as a group of individuals unified by a cause, but we left New Orleans as a small part of the greater New Orleans family. Its people, culture, sights, and colloquial “Hey Baby” remain close to my heart. New Orleans is said to have been forever lost, but what I have learned is while water and winds can destroy buildings, they can’t destroy the heart of a people. For I have never experienced that closely knit of a community before and if the world could become what New Orleans became to me, I am convinced the world would be a better place.
Reflecting on my experience, emotions pour forth as do some tears, but also a deeper understanding of self. New Orleans and our group will forever be apart of me. The fleur de lis hanging in my school, my mother’s adopted jambalaya, and songs by Louis Armstrong remind me of New Orleans. Now, I really do know what it means to miss New Orleans.
This trip would have been nonexistent if not for the gracious help from the Bowlyard family. Thank you for all the wonderful experiences and memories. They will stay with me forever.
A big thanks to Mr. Wilhelm for not only being a wonderful member of our new Orleans family, but also for providing the van for transportation through those crazy New Orleans streets. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without you!
Mia Bandoni is a Vail Mountain School student.
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