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!


Painting the Awesome Pre-Civil War Pink-and-White-But-Somehow-Not-Barbie House

Day 2 of service. We found ourselves a block and a half from the church with 4 other volunteers from Pass AmeriCorps (from Madison, which resulted in a short, though heated, football dilemma that I completely tuned out of because I play rugby) and Twiggy, our service manager. (yes, that's his preferred name; apparently, everyone in his family is huge and six feet tall while he is little and lean in comparison. He can still carry a hundred-pound ladder by himself and has survived two knife fights, so I'm under the assumption that he is a superhero via Scottish genetics. Why are you looking at me like I'm crazy? I'm not crazy!)

Anyway, we were at Ms. Jeanette's house, and I am absolutely going to geek out about the house now because I am a history major and this house was built no later than 1835 but possibly as early as 1800. It was the whole package, with the servants' quarters in the back that could (at that time) only be accessed by these tiny, narrow staircases that should be the scene for a horror movie like a Civil War-era Grudge sequel. It was huge and beautiful, even with the paint crumbling off the walls (not necessarily hurricane damage; Ms. Jeanette almost lost a wall to the tornado that came immediately after). Even with the damage, we could still see that it was pink with white pillars. Pink and white! Normally this is the part where I'd say it looked like an oversized Barbie house and I wanted to vomit, but Barbie never crossed my mind. That's how awesome this house is.

Oh, a note on the homeowner: she is an awesome, awesome woman. She was doing community gardens 20 years before they were a thing, and now she's been doing work in the Lower 9th Ward. There are so many empty lots there, many of which are city-owned, that Ms. Jeanette is trying to convert into either homes or gardens. She's awesome, and her house is awesome, and I wanted her to kidnap me so we could stay in this awesome house and absorb all of its awesomeness.

Alas, there were things to do. Everyone was outside painting walls, balconies, and ceilings. Many of us were on ladders, which was a difficulty for some. I, personally, don't fear heights, except the first few times when I climbed up and down the ladder. Apparently, if the ladder's tall enough, when you're in the middle of it it gets very wobbly, like it's made of rubber. That was...um, not fun. But it's a quick fix, and many of you will think I'm utterly insane for saying it, because, yes, it sounds insane. When the ladder feels like rubber and starts to wobble, the solution is to climb higher!

No, I'm dead serious, you climb higher. I don't know the exact physics, but the readjustment of your weight makes the ladder much more steady. After a couple times up and down, it was a breeze, and we all got in the zone. Twiggy had to yell at me to come down when it got dangerously windy, that's how much I was into it.

If that's how great my work was, how fun do you think my night was?

Well, after tacos for dinner (which are admittedly sitting uncomfortably in all of our stomachs. So. Many. Tacos...), not much. Went to Walgreens. Spent 30 minutes scrubbing paint off my skin. Got into PJ's at 7pm. Been reading a lot of Sherlock fan fiction of which you will not judge me because it is awesome like Ms. Jeanette's house.

So that's it! I am now going to go back to my fan fiction, and then will call it an early night and conk out before everyone gets back from their time exploring the city. Overall, this is a very good day. :)


Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday's Service

Our catalyst group began our service day lifting
sheetrock into a disposal destination.  It
was an energizing feeling to have so much eagerness and synergy disposing the heavy
sheetrock together. We were able to complete the task and continued to our main
service site for the day at the Williams family’s home.  From some rare difficulties of the day, the service
schedule at the William family’s home was thrown off yet folks still kept a
positive attitude. 

Eventually starting at this site, Rachel, our site
supervisor split us into groups such as painting or power washing the Williams
family’s home.  I was personally split
into the group who painted the interior of the home.  It was wonderful feeling balancing ourselves
on ladders as we brushed paint in the very corners that brought rounds of sweat
down our faces.  After hours of our group
layering the Williams’ home with fresh paint, Rachel gathered us to clean and put
tools back to a van.  Returning to United
Saints, we concluded our service for day by putting painting equipment back
into a tool shed.

During the entire morning and afternoon, we were met
with the Sun’s bright and warm grin along with the Williams family’s smiles.  The Williams family greatly appreciated our
efforts!  It was definitely a great
experience helping in whatever way we could!

-Wuang J


Today was our first full day of service. We began the morning with a large community breakfast with the entire group of volunteers that are down here at United Saints this week. There are only three groups here, but together we amount to about fifty volunteers—there are two big groups from Wisconsin (UW and an Americorps group). After a quick breakfast and a rush to pack brown bag lunches, we congregated for an introduction and a meeting to plan the day’s service. Our group decided that we preferred to stay together for service, so we jumped at the opportunity to travel to a house that needed 12 volunteers for the day’s work. After a quick group picture with the two resident pitbulls at United Saints, we were trained in ladder safety by a gentleman named Twiggy.
Unfortunately, our site supervisor was having some difficulty getting to us, so we started the morning off with a lot of waiting around. We walked over a couple blocks and helped to move some moldy sheetrock out a local reverend’s garage, into the back of a pickup, and loaded it into a dumpster. It seemed as though United Saints was looking for some work to give us, as they hadn’t anticipated us being without a supervisor and we couldn’t travel to the work site without someone who was familiar with the territory.
As our group is mostly comprised of women (9 of us identify and present as female), we were not altogether impressed when we showed up to the garage to move the sheetrock and were met with the statement, “I need four strong guys to help me move this,” by a worker from United Saints. There was a fair amount of tongue-biting, and we proceeded to kick some sheetrock-movin’ butt as quickly and efficiently as possible. At this point, it was about 11 am and the humidity began to sink under our skin. There is something delicious about doing heavy lifting in 80-degree humidity—you can feel yourself dissolving into a mess of sweat and grime, and loving every second of it.
By lunchtime, we were assigned a new site supervisor, Rachel, who gave us the address of the house we were working on, and directed us as to which materials to load into the van. After piling in the ladders, paint buckets, and pressure washer, we hopped into our van and drove to the site. It took Rachel and the tools a little longer to get there, so we had time for a few games in the shade outside the house before we began our work. Anthony and Grace are currently the reigning champions of NOLA Ninja.
We met the homeowners of the house we were working on, Melvin and Ms. Carol. They were very sweet; Melvin offered up his kitchen and bathroom for whatever we may need throughout the day, and chatted with a few of us about where we were from, and Ms. Carol walked through and witnessed the work we were doing, while profusely thanking us for being there. I kept hearing her telling our group that we were her ‘angel people’. I can’t help but think that United Saints are the true ‘angel people’; we would never have been there today if it wasn’t for them. Their organization is truly amazing; seeking out need in the community and matching it with volunteers who want to make a difference (like us) is something of an overwhelming endeavor.
Rachel had never been to the site either, and I was impressed with her quick and easy adaptation. She instantly had us organized into groups (Taelor, Elena, Wuang, Christina, Hayley, and Adriana painting interior walls; Anthony, Yeng, and Nur on high ladders painting the exterior of the house; Grace, Mallory, and myself pressure washing the side of the house), and quickly trained each of us in our duties. She was upbeat and enthusiastic, moving from group to group, and singing along with our radios. I must be honest and say that I feel like Grace, Mallory, and I had the best job today—it was hot, and we were pressure washing. For those who have never pressure washed, it is basically taking a huge gun that sprays water and blowing it at something dirty. It is immensely satisfying to watch grime come off in strips, and it was extremely pleasant to feel the cool spray in the hot weather. The three of us were soaked and muddy by the end of the day.
At the end of the day, we packed up and headed back to United Saints. Taelor, Elena, and I washed paint brushes and buckets while everyone else unloaded the van.
When I got back to the apartment, I was sitting outside on the front steps, and a man named Omar came and sat down next to me. He is here volunteering all by himself—he’s the only volunteer here this week that is not part of a group. He’s all the way from Brooklyn, New York. He didn’t know how bad the damage from Katrina was currently until today, and he sat down to talk to me about it and process it. We had a conversation about poverty, racism, and white privilege. He told me that as a black man, he had never spoken to a white person before who acknowledged their own privilege, and he said that he had felt uncomfortable and unsafe bringing up the term ‘white privilege’ in his conversation with me until I initiated it. This was surprising to me; sometimes I forget what it is like outside of the Hamline Bubble, where acknowledging privilege is a regular conversation topic.
Dinner was NOLA-style red beans & rice, fried chicken, and salad. Food has never tasted so good. We were all quiet at dinner—face down in our plates for a good twenty minutes.
Wuang & I decided to send the group out on a ‘get-to-know-you-better’ reflection after dinner. We supplied them with questions designed to dig a little deeper into personal lives & views, and sent them out for walks for about an hour and a half. Everyone came back looking happy, and then it was free time.
Elena, Taelor, and I needed a few things from Walgreens, so we walked down St. Charles, stopped at the store, and then found a café with outdoor seating for the evening. As of right now, we are the only ones back at the apartment; the rest of the group is out exploring the French Quarter. I am feeling tired, sunburned, & very excited for tomorrow. It’s shaping up to be a great week!
Thanks for keeping up with our adventures! We miss all y’all back home!

PS: Wildlife total for the day has been two lizards, two ROUSes (Rodents of Unusual Size), and an unidentified flying bird that we think was an egret but could possibly have been a large oddly shaped seagull.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

NOLA Day 1

Our first full day in New Orleans was quite a busy one! We started off the morning with a church service at First Street Peck Wesley United Methodist Church. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming towards us as visitors to the church.  After the church service, we met a man named Koné who served as our tour guide for the day. He gave us a brief overview of the illustrious history of New Orleans. There were so many new things that I learned about the city that I never would have guessed otherwise. When started our tour in our van, it finally started to really kick in for me that we were somewhere outside of the midwest. Everything about New Orleans is just so different and unique. We rode through various neighborhoods and got to see houses of some famous musicians who were from the city such as Louis Armstrong, "Fats" Domino, and Mahalia Jackson.

We later reached the part of our tour in the Lower Ninth Ward. This was the neighborhood of New Orleans that suffered the most damage from Hurricane Katrina.  In a few months it will be a full ten years since Hurricane Katrina, and if you ask people outside of Louisiana, I'd be willing to bet a handful of them assume the city has fully recovered by now. Here in the Lower Ninth Ward, we saw firsthand that it is not the case. There are still vacant lots and boarded up houses that would have never been seen before Katrina. We had the opportunity to visit the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum to see first hand experiences of the hurricane through picture, videos, and even a simulation to have the chance to feel like you were in the hurricane yourself. It was a very powerful experience that I will never forget.

Finally we ended the day roaming around the French Quarter. We rode the streetcar to Cafe Du Monde and enjoyed some delicious Beignets and then exploring Bourbon Street. It was all so exciting , the atmosphere was indescribable! I truly believe New Orleans is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Thank you for following our journey!


Catalyst Day 1

Today we were able to sit in and join the church service. Everyone was very friendly and nice, in which we were given a warm welcome. After the service we were able to go on a tour throughout a couple different places in New Orleans where we learned about the rich history and the background information on the people living in the New Orleans. In relationship to the history of the people in New Orleans it was interesting to learn that the genres of gospel, blues, jazz, and rock music all originated in this area and has spread to all different parts of the country and nationally. Likewise we were able to see some of the houses where these certain musicians lived. We were also able to see a couple of the first few churches to be established in New Orleans. But one of the things that really stuck with me while on the tour was seeing the abandon charity hospital (Avery Alexander Hospital). It was hard to take in that the hospital is no longer open after the hurricane and all grants were stopped. Which was devastating for the people of New Orleans especially for the individuals who need the health assistance. Therefore because of this the increase in health conditions has risen in the past years since the hurricane. Visiting the Lower 9th Ward Museum was interesting because it illustrated how this area changed throughout the years. It was also inspiring to see that although it was rough for the people they had a lot of courage come back to their homes and start rebuilding and telling us their stories. Like Mr. Green who was happy to share us his story of having only 10 minutes to get his family up to the attic and on the roof of the house because the water from the hurricane was rising so fast. We also saw how the community came together and help rebuild like the 9th ward community center that was created after Katrina. From the tour we learn some interesting facts for example “homelessness quadruple after Katrina”, “There is a 52% unemployment rate”, and “18% of African American men have college a degree". Therefore, throughout our tour we learned a lot and it was great to get a visual of the different areas.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Welcome to our blog!

This blog will chronicle our experience on the New Orleans Catalyst Alternative Spring Break Trip. We can't wait to share what we learn. Check back for updates! We'll be in New Orleans March 28th through April 4th.