Spring break is a time when many students travel to tropical islands for a week-long adventure, while several others venture back home for a relaxing time with family and friends. In the past, I’ve had both types of experiences, so for my final spring break, I decided to try something a little different. I had heard about an interfaith service trip to New Orleans, and while I’m not actively involved with a religious group at Juniata, campus ministry welcomed me with open arms.
Although I had always heard about the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, I thought that after 11 years the city would be restored. Although most areas of New Orleans have recovered nicely, the Lower Ninth Ward has not fully recuperated.
While in New Orleans, I, along with 17 other Juniata students, worked with an organization called Capstone, which aims to provide the citizens of the Lower Ninth Ward with free community gardens. To help out, we weeded, planted, and watered the gardens; constructed and painted boxes for honey bees; cleaned and fed goats and chickens; and helped with other jobs as needed.
Since this was also an interfaith trip, we explored and discussed different religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Unitarian Universalism. Additionally, we were able to learn about the culture of New Orleans by talking with local citizens, eating beignets at the famous Café du Monde, visiting a Mardi Gras museum, and touring the renowned Saint Louis Cemetery.
Lithuanian-American writer Ruta Sepetys once said, “New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture—even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels, and there’s a story lurking around every corner.” After experiencing New Orleans first-hand, I could not agree more.