Saturday, April 4, 2015


Today Friday, April 3rd, was the last day of service in New Orleans. As the two students leaders scheduled for us, we didn’t work with United Saints today. We volunteered at a Veggie Farm owned by Vietnamese American community in New Orleans. Before, we started working at the farm, Daniel who is the farm manager told us that they supply veggies to couple of local supermarkets, small grocery store, and restaurants in this city (New Orleans). He talked about that during Hurricane Katerina there was veggie shortage because only two supermarkets (Winn-dixie and Walmart) were open in the city.  Then, we started our service for the day. Some of us (included myself) were transplanting a different kind of egg plants (Japanese eggplant and Italian eggplant). It was my first time I’ve ever done it and it was a great experience for me. We gave each plan enough space to grow and put mulch around them and pull any weeds that’s around it. The second group, had a fun job. They let ducks get out of their house and watch, but it didn’t work well for them. The idea was to herd the ducks into the slug-infest area and they would start chomping. Unfortunately, one of the students (Chris) came back to me and told me “they (ducks) are stubborn idiots. They kept trying to get through the fence back to their house”. I’m not an expert about the life of ducks, it seemed to me that it was same environment both inside and outside of their house. Therefore, there was no need to be outside. Other group, were seeding by taking out the extra stuff on it. It was a great service to end our long week for serving this community.

After the service and before the dinner we had an hour and half to walk around and do some shopping on Magazine Street. Some of us bought something while other was just busy for exploration in the area. We came back home around 6:30pm and got ready for our final night celebration dinner out to French Quarter area. 

-Nur Mood

Friday, April 3, 2015

Final Friday Fun

(by Taelor)

And, somehow, it's the final day of our time in NOLA.

We started today early with breakfast & Catalyst-inspired music remixes. Instead of volunteering with United Saints, we made a slightly longer trip to the Mary Queen of Vietnam & worked with their farming/education program called Veggies. While some people herded ducks (to help with the farm's slug problem), others transplanted greens, and the rest of us sorted seeds. The farmers were very welcoming & excited to talk with us. After service we spent some free time on Magazine Street, a hip shopping area a little ways from where we've been staying. People picked up presents, NOLA gear, clothing, and coffee before heading home. The group got cleaned up (we look good) and headed out to a restaurant dinner together! Stuffing our faces, while enjoying each other's faces, was a wonderful way to spend our last evening together.

An incredible, previously unimaginable week is coming to an end. We survived the flaming sun (some of us now a little more pink than others), paint fumes, a tiny shared bathroom, and scaling mile-high ladders. We feasted on home-cooked New Orleans food, jammed to top 40s tunes, cuddled with rescued animals, and publicly embarrassed our service leaders at every opportunity. As I sit safely on Selene's bunk-bed, my community of ragtag college kids is running around our tiny apartment, cleaning up in preparation for our 5:30 am departure tomorrow. Laughs erupt from the kitchen, leftover food exchanges hands, and we all come together to try and remove the smelly, messy grime this week has left behind. One blog post is not nearly enough time or space to encompass all of our "highs" & "lows", so I won't attempt to explain how we have grown as a community or how much these people have taught me.

It is the most wonderful feeling to leave a place knowing you have impacted a community in need, learned of struggles that have not been portrayed through the media, government, or academia (and which must be shared across our country), and grown together as a group. I will never have enough sappy words to explain how much Catalyst has affected me this fine spring, so I will sign off for now & go enjoy the last few hours I have with these amazing folks (hopefully some dancing will be involved).

Sweet dreams to all! We look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Please wish us safe travels.


Our group embodying different animals at the Animal Rescue New Orleans site.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thriving Thursday

Hello followers, parents, friends, and curious strangers, this is Grace here.

It is surprising how quick this trip has flashed by. As I sit here I find myself surprised with the amount of energy the group still has. It has been an amazing experience so far being here in such a boisterous culture, one we are certain to remember. But despite all of the temptations of Bourbon street and the Beignets fried in the French Quarter, what I think we are most likely to remember is what we see during the day. The people that invite us into their homes and tell us their stories.

As Mallory mentioned all of us have had the great fortune of meeting Miss Jeanette. But we have also had the opportunity to connect with other members of the New Orleans community as well. These people have opened their doors and shown us some of the tragedy that is ongoing in their communities and though it isn't always easy to see we all realize it is necessary. I think as members of this 2015 Catalyst trip we hope that those of you reading this can learn even just a little bit about what we are seeing and experiencing.

There is still plenty of work to be done here in New Orleans. Everyday someone comes back with sore feet, new sunburn, paint laden hands (today also legs), or whatever it may be but, also, a smile on their face. Knowing that the work we are doing, painting houses, walking dogs, setting up ladders, clearing out sheet rock, whatever, is helping someone and ultimately helping a tired community grow just a little more resilient is such a liberating feeling.

Having been here for nearly a week now I have a far better understanding of why our leaders asserted themselves to get back here and begin working again. I have never met a group of individuals as grateful as the ones within the communities we have been working. As I reflect back on this trip I will clearly see Miss Jeanette's smile hiding under her sun hat, Laurie pulling a joke and showing us a baby possum hiding in her hair, or Pops laughing as we try to thank him for his delicious dinners.

All that being said, today was a great day. I had the chance to spend more time working on Miss Jeanette's house with Mallory, Wuang, and Chris while the rest of the group headed over to Carol Williams house. Has anyone ever told you about how fearless some of our group is? Earlier this week Elena, Nur, and Anthony all ascended into the sunny skies of New Orleans with paint buckets in hand as they climbed up some of the highest ladders I have ever seen.

Now today, those ladders in place, they had no climbers, and the Wondrous Wuang stepped up, literally. He faced his fears and climbed up to do what needed to be done. I was not so wondrous, but, luckily helped to keep him positive while I painted on a smaller ladder by his side. By the end of the afternoon we had completed the back wall. When we first saw the house on Tuesday it needed primer and paint still, today, it just needed to dry. Two coats of both primer and paint later and with the efforts of many the beast that is the back of sweet Miss Jeanette's house was finished.

As a reward for everyone's hard work we had ribs for dinner! That's right the United Saint's does not hold out on their volunteers, they feed us tasty tacos and ravishing ribs. After we were all refueled we took a little road trip over to Louis Armstrong Park and Congo Square. Here we got to explore a bit and learn more about the New Orleans history, as well as take some pretty fantastic photos. Energized by our days work we got a little silly and really let that energy out upon our arrival to such a beautiful place.

Once we were done being silly we met for a far more serious and organized reflection before people settled in for the night. We have one final day ahead of us and I couldn't be more excited to see what we can accomplish and learn next.

Thanks for reading!

(P.S. here is an example of the silliness that ensued. Pictured left to right: Myself, Mallory, and Taelor.)

An Angel Known As Ms. Jeanette

Today was sadly our last day volunteering with United Saints. It has truly been an amazing journey working with some of the most caring, hardworking, and unique individuals at the organization. One of the aspects I really appreciate about United Saints is the time they are willing to take to personally get to know the homeowners they are helping. United Saints as I can best put it are the "gems" that make New Orleans the city where people love to be.

Some of group spent our last day finishing things up at Ms. Jeanette's house. I believe working at Ms. Jeanette's house really made the trip come to a full circle. One of the first few days we were in New Orleans we had the pleasure of working at her house. The architecturally astounding house was built back in early 1830's. Ms. Jeanette eventually bought the house to help save its historical value. When looking back at Ms. Jeanette's house from the first trip it was extremely overwhelming. Almost all sides of the gigantic two-story plantation style house needed to be primed and painted. After working our first day at the project one could notice we had made significant improvements, but the house still needed a lot more help. Now, coming back two days later it was amazing to see how little still needed to be done. I spent most of my day on an A-frame ladder (yeah, we know ladder terminology now) high up on the second floor balcony painting trim around the enormous windows. While spending almost 7 hours painting only two windows, when I stepped back to look at our final product I was extremely grateful to see how much we were making a difference for Ms. Jeanette, even it if it seemed like a slow and gradual accomplishment.

Now for those who don't get the pleasure of meeting Ms. Jeanette, she is probably the sweetest and most passionate 71 yr old woman one could ever meet. She spoke to our group at the end of the day about her community garden project in the lower 9th district. Her plan is to help teach people how to become self-sufficient through her gardening expertise. As tears began to roll down her face when discussing the food desert in the lower 9th ward one could truly see how much Ms. Jeanette cares about her community and those affected by the hurricane still ten years later.  One day, I hope to be as passionate and inspirational as the angel most commonly referred to as Ms. Jeanette. It's people like her that are going to help change the city of New Orleans!


PS. Here is a link to Ms. Jeanette's garden project in the lower 9th ward:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday in NOLA

It definitely felt like hump day this morning. Exhaustion was really finally settling in for all of us, from a lot of hard work the past couple of days, lots of hot sun, and late nights exploring the Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. We went through our usual routine: wake up, dress, eat, make lunch, and then meeting where assignments are handed out. For the past two days we had been working on primarily painting jobs on a couple of different houses in the city. There had been mention of maybe getting to work at a local animal shelter, but that was a hot commodity in terms of assignment and we had more people in our group than they needed, so it didn't seem likely that we would be getting it. Thanks to some quick thinking, the hand-raising ability of a ninja, and two great people in our group, the rest of us were able to spend the day with the cats and dogs (and one baby possum) at ARNO.

This almost literally a dream come true! I have a deep love and passion for animals, especially dogs and I was being given the opportunity to do one of the things that I loved most. It was not all fun and games at the shelter though. We had some serious responsibility to these animals that had been abandoned, beaten, starved, or even had the misfortune of never experiences a home or love. Daily, ARNO has volunteers, both local and otherwise, come to clean kennels, feed the animals, walk dogs, and much much more. It was a lot of hard work with some really great perks. I had the chance to interact with a ton of cats, which is not something that I have really ever gotten a chance to do, walk Leona, Mary Jo, and Sydney, and play with a couple of others along the way including Benjamin and Buttons. One of the reasons that this organization is so important is because it takes in displaced animals who are often not treated the ways that they should. As the result of hurricane Katrina and just life in general, hundreds of animals in New Orleans don't have a place to call home. While the area still struggles greatly with homelessness and devastation ten years after the storm, there are even more aspects to the relief that must be accomplished to make this city whole again and ARNO helping to make that happen.

After a day of connecting with some many great animals and people, NOLA catalyst participants had the great pleasure of connecting with some equally great individuals. Hamline alumni Tony Wilson, along with several of his local friends and poets, put together a great slam poetry show for us. We had the fortune of hearing more about issues of race, feminism, education, and much more from these performers, further influencing and inspiring all of our needs to spread our message through the Hamline and surrounding communities.

Now, still covered in two day old paint, fresh sunburns, and a brain full of questions, I head to bed!



Today began like every day this week: up early, getting ready in a half-asleep state, making some sloppy sandwiches for lunch later, munching down some cereal, and picking our volunteer spot for the day. Our group has been begging for ARNO, the Animal Rescue of New Orleans, and today because of two selfless members of our group, ten of us got to go.

ARNO is a no kill shelter that houses dogs and cats. I began the day by walking the small dogs. I was surprised to find how well behaved and kind-hearted the dogs were. It was very relaxing to walk them up and down the street, even while having to clean up behind them. After a quick lunch break we were back to work and this time it was kennel cleaning time. Anthony and I volunteered to clean the feral dogs kennels. Though the work was dirty, the results felt good. When we finished, the leader of the center showed us two of the feral dogs that were brothers. She was working with them to get them acquainted to humans. Though one dog was still very afraid, and would shake if you entered its cage, it's brother would bark and get in your face. The lead took in some treats and sat down with him. We watched as she broke off a piece, stuck it partially in her own mouth, and the dog would gently take it from her and eat it. It really showed us how dedicated the workers there are to making sure these animals have a bright future. With the little time we had left at the shelter, I got the chance to meet Buttons: the cutest little puppy you could ever meet. He was full of love and was so willing to share; I may have made a plan to sneak him back to Minnesota...

After a filling spaghetti dinner, it was time for a slam poetry event. We are fortunate to have a Hamline alumni right here in New Orleans who is a slam poet, and he organized a slam event just for us. The many poets that performed were full of energy and life. They opened their hearts and told us all about their stories and struggles. These were people that genuinely cared about each other and making the world a better place for others going through similar things. After the performance many of them stayed after to talk to us and get to know us better. The artists were very down-to-earth and humble.

Overall, I cannot believe how well this trip is going. Yes, there have been bumps in the road, but we have come back from them with such grace, and they have only brought us closer together. I believe we show how much of a difference you can make when you put your differences aside and work toward a common goal, such as helping those in need.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015


What a day! You know you've done something right when you're both physically and mentally exhausted by 9:30 at night. Never have I felt so elderly.....

Today was a beautiful day, in every way. We woke up and got ready, then had a sleepy breakfast. The apartment we're living in is very small and we're on top each other all the time, but I am so grateful for this group and their patience, flexibility, and understanding. We make it work in close quarters without any issues, and that's impressive.

After breakfast, we got assigned to our site. We worked at Miss Jeanette's house, just a few blocks from United Saints. Miss Jeanette is beyond inspiring. She bought a historic home in Central City in the 80's when everything was being destroyed and rebuilt, and she's been renovating it. She is so involved in her community and devoted to improving the conditions for the people in her city who have the most need. For example, she is working to turn lots that were left vacant and cleared in the Lower Ninth Ward after Katrina into garden space for members of the community. She has a method of teaching people to garden that makes it so they know how to grow their own fruits and veggies after just six months. It feels good to give to someone who is so committed to giving herself. When the tornados hit right after Katrina, Miss Jeanette saw a lot of the work she had put into her house set back, so we're working to renovate it.

I spent the whole day working on the back wall. This house is massive,  so I spent most of my hours up a fifty foot ladder, painting with the original peach color. I love being up high, so when our site leader Twiggy asked for "fearless daredevils to go up the giant ladders," I was all over it (although I don't typically consider myself a daredevil...Maybe I should!) Once you get used to the way the ladder sways when the wind blows, it's actually very peaceful up in the air. I definitely got into what Twiggy refers to as the "painting zen." Nur, Anthony, and I were the dream team on the back wall, and we primed and painted almost the entire thing! It was day spent in warm, sunny weather, jamming to the radio, getting to know my group, and getting absolutely covered in paint.

During lunch, I stopped inside to use the bathroom and ended up talking to Miss Jeanette for a good while, one-on-one. She showed me a flyer she was working on for her project, and in our conversation, she told me "I don't want to help people. I want to be a part of people learning to help themselves." I think that is a beautiful way of approaching service and community work, and talking with her was an invaluable experience for me.

After cleaning up the site, we cleaned up ourselves (I definitely had to scrub for quite a while to get the paint off), and went to dinner. Yay Taco Tuesday! Then we did a great reflection where people presented on an object they had brought that is meaningful and representative of themselves. After that we had free time. A group of us went to explore the French Quarter some more. We wandered aimlessly down the gas lamp-lit streets, stopping into candy stores and voodoo shops and watching musicians play on the corners (some of us even danced in the street to their songs). The trolley's are always fun, and just in general, our group gets along very well.

I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to learn from the people in New Orleans, and to be a part of their ongoing efforts. I have a great team by my side-- people who make me laugh, challenge me to think harder, engage me in passionate conversations, and are willing to be open. Twiggy said at the end that he forgot how much Hamline gets done when they come down. He was genuinely very proud of our work, and impressed at our ability to work as a team. It makes it all so much better when you have a group as awesome as this.

The trip so far has been great! Thanks for checking in with our endeavors!