Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Renewing New Orleans, Renewing our souls

"Everybody wants to be a part of a miracle. People helping people, it's powerful stuff"
~ Vince Vaughn, Wedding Crashers

When my alarm went off at 6:20 yesterday morning it could only mean one thing was upon me - the start of my final semester at the University of Central Florida. I could not believe that school was already here and starting. I could not believe that this was the beginning of the end of my DeVos journey. More than anything, I could not believe I had to get out of bed - because last week was absolutely exhausting.

As has been a tradition of the DeVos program these past four years, the class of 2011 and 2012 took a service trip to New Orleans with the Hope For Stanley Alliance. It is always a great experience to get to know the new members of the DeVos family and to give back to the city of New Orleans - a city that continues to go through so much but the resilience and optimism of her people never ceases to amaze me. Overall it was an incredible trip and I hope to have pictures to share with you all soon. I have now spent five weeks in service to the city of New Orleans and this trip was clearly the best one that I have gone on - it is amazing that no matter how many times I go, my life is always changed and I am always made better for it.

Those who know me, know that I am one to talk but I also acknowledge that sometimes, someone else can say it a lot better than me so instead I choose to keep my part short and instead share with you the thoughts of some of the members of our new class who went on this trip for the very first time.

Until next week,

Traveling to New Orleans with the DeVos Program this past week was my first time witnessing the aftermath from Hurricane Katrina. Touring the Lower Ninth Ward, where the levees broke, was an eye opening experience that filled me with many emotions. I cannot even fathom how the Lower Ninth Ward looked right after the flood if this is how the area looks five years later. Streets that were once packed with houses are now empty lots covered in overgrown weeds or abandoned houses. I had no idea of the amount of work that needs to be done and all the families that are still trying to come home. I am so glad to be a part of Hope for Stanley and to have the opportunity to restore homes. The residents that have been fortunate enough to come back to the Lower Ninth Ward are highly appreciative of volunteers. The residents have shown us how much our work means to the community in order to help residents regain their lives. I will be taking many trips back to New Orleans in the future. It is an amazing way to give back and help families come home to New Orleans, the only home they ever known, so they can rebuild friendships, families, and neighborhoods.
~Kaley Pendley, Class of 2012

"Initially I didn't know what to expect but speaking from my past experience I would like to say I truly loved it. I went to New Orleans in 2007 during my undergraduate years at Howard University to do rebuilding for Alternative Spring Break, a similar effort to Hope For Stanley. Seeing the damage that has yet to be cleaned up/rebuilt/fixed was quite upsetting. It had been 3 years since I had gone to visit and only certain areas looked like they were being helped. Hearing the stories of the natives, especially Stanley's story, reassured me and (I'm sure) my classmates as to why we continue to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate; especially those in New Orleans. I think the idea to take a trip down there before starting classes was a great way to ensure bonding between both classes. The experience set the tone for the next 18 months and what a great tone it was."
~ Kara Adams, Class of 2012

"I did not fully understand the true meaning of the saying ‘Restore, Rebuild & Renew’ until my first trip to NOLA ended this past Friday. Not only was it an emotional 5 days, but my eyes were also opened to a part of the country that I had never been to. I feel so blessed to be able to give back to a community that is so thankful for all of the work the DeVos family has continued to do over the years. With the 5 year anniversary happening this weekend, I hope that people still acknowledge how much work is still needed in the Lower 9th ward and the outlying areas. While the downtown area looks very pretty it only takes a short drive down the road to see that there is still so much renovation that needs to be done. After realizing that NOLA still has so much clean up left to do I hope that people will continue to serve the city."
~ Anna Florzak, Class of 2012

"I grew up on the panhandle of Florida, an area known to experience a hurricane or two. Yet even with that on my mind, nothing could compare to the desolate area of destruction that was the Lower Ninth Ward. Even five years later the damage still remains. Concrete slabs where houses once stood, porch steps leading to nothing, homes with holes in the roofs made by people, just like you and me, trying to escape from the flooding, building "tattoos" explaining how many people died in that building, and acres and acres of overgrown weeds and grass in place of a neighborhood where children once roamed. Visiting New Orleans one always thinks of the booming city, Bourbon Street, and the French Quarter yet we tend to forget about the other parishes and neighborhoods of New Orleans. I had never put up a single piece of dry wall in my life, yet I looked forward to spending my week creating these sheet rock shapes and forming the walls of what will someday be someone's home. There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone in need, and that is what I will take back from this trip the most. Growing closer with my classmates, people I had not even met until this trip, doesn't hurt either. My first trip to New Orleans is truly one I will NEVER forget."
~Matthew Vinson, Class of 2012

"New Orleans was an unforgettable experience. Not only did I get to bond with my classmates and create lasting relationships but I got to learn the infinite possibilities that we as humans have. On the trip, we were able to meet an outstanding man named Stanley who is a true hero of Hurricane Katrina. He was able to sacrifice his life to save his family. I have never been to New Orleans before and seeing the destruction that still exists 5 years after the storm opened my eyes to the help that countless people in this world need. In the end, it made me proud to be in the DeVos Sport Management Program because of the emphasis of using sport as a tool for social change."
~ Christopher Moran, Class of 2012

"My first impression of our trip to New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward was amazement and surprise at how little has been done in the past 5 years since Hurricane Katrina. My heart was filled with sorrow at the sight of so much devastation and suffering. Listening to the stories of the victims was difficult at times but an eye opening experience for me. This was my first trip ever to New Orleans. It was overwhelming to see the large number of vacant houses and weeded over empty lots. Despite the hard work the St Bernard Project, Hope for Stanley and other organizations have accomplished it seems like little progress has been made. But on the last day of our trip a victim of Hurricane Katina stopped by our worksite to speak with us and share his appreciation for the work we were doing and the effect it has had on him and his family. It felt good and made me feel a little better about how much impact our small contribution is making in the lives of people who would not have made it without our help. It was at that point I remembered an old Chinese proverb ‘to move a mountain you begin with the first pebble’. I now see how at least moving those first few pebbles through Hope for Stanley and other programs like it has helped impact his life, his family’s life and many others, but I also realize that there is still much more work to do to move this mountain."
~ Tony Scott, Class of 2012

"Words cannot adequately express what this week has done for Demetrius. I have seen the video footage and heard so many things about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It is one thing to watch television, but it is something so much more impactful see it in person. From the first time I set my eyes on the ninth ward, a part of me felt sad. I thought about all of the people whose lives were changed forever. I am an individual who has felt the agony of losing a close loved one, and I thought about all of the citizens of New Orleans who lost their family. Hearing the stories of the people of New Orleans was priceless, and really helped to put things into perspective for me. Next, I was so excited about helping build the homes back up for the people of New Orleans. Watching the home come together day by day was unbelievable to see and I cannot wait to head back in December to help another family. I came to volunteer and to give something back, but I actually was blessed in many ways as well, and I am so grateful for that."
~ Demetrius Frazier, Class of 2012

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