February 5, 2017

GOA's 11th Annual New Orleans Service Trip

Etai Barash ‘18


Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 and its effects are still felt to this day. Empty plots of land, where houses formerly stood, are abundant throughout the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.
Eleven years later, the aid for the area is declining, but Golda Och Academy is trying to help rebuild this community back to its once vibrant nature and beyond.
When GOA’s group of students and teachers arrived in New Orleans, the first thing they did was take in the devastation. A tour of the Lower Ninth Ward by guide Robert Green exposed how physically destroyed the community was; there were multiple empty lots and abandoned houses on nearly every block.
However, the theme of the tour was not depressing. While the community has been deprived of many material possessions following the storm, there is no lack of spirit. Every person the students came into contact with was friendly and inviting.
None were as welcoming as Jeffrey, a local not much different in age than the Golda Och Academy students. The students met Jeffrey at the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, a museum designed to raise awareness for the community and Hurricane Katrina’s impact.
Jeffrey was extremely exuberant with the students, belting out songs like the theme song for “Victorious” and braiding the girls’ hair. He always had a smile on his face.  
Jeffrey’s excitement truly symbolized the feeling the students got from the community. Although they had been broken for so long, there was something that no storm could take from them – their vibrant society and behavior. Such a proud community could not be broken by a hurricane.
Meeting Jeffrey on the first day set the tone for the trip. The students genuinely wanted to help the community rebuild because they deserved it.
“Jeffrey’s positivity, smile and hopefulness strengthened my desire to help the people and the city of New Orleans,” junior Sarah Cehelyk said.
Absorbing the culture only furthered students’ interest in rebuilding the area. By exploring the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, the local Jewish community, Preservation Hall and much more, GOA’s service group began to feel one with the community.
This special feeling led to a strong desire to help. The students capitalized on this feeling by volunteering at a local elementary school and with Habitat for Humanity.
“At the school, I was pleasantly surprised that all the students were so welcoming,” junior Lizzie Irwin said. “I got to see that although these kids were facing tons of challenges at home and in their community, school was their place to truly be themselves and not have to worry at all.”
The following two days were spent volunteering with Habitat for Humanity on two separate houses. From hammering, to cementing, to painting, the students on the trip assisted in the building of homes for future residents. Although tiring at times, the work was done happily and with immense effort.

Although the city of New Orleans has endured an unbearable amount of tragedy, the city and its people carry with it a sense of hope that cannot be found anywhere else.

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