It’s wild to believe that we’ve only been in New Orleans for a just few short days. So many deep personal connections have been formed and so many incredible memories have been made already. We haven’t even gotten halfway through the trip yet!
Today we visited the area that was hit the hardest by Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward. We traveled to a small, local church that has been around since 1900. Miss Warrenetta Chenaeu-Banks, founder of Lower 9 Resilient, shared her personal history with the neighborhood and the church. I was incredibly moved by the passion she displayed for her community and her gratitude for us volunteers. She said quite a few things that I know will resonate with me throughout the rest of our time here and beyond. First, she related the reputation of the city of New Orleans to the reputation of Virginia Tech. Two places struck by horrible tragedies, but two places that refuse to be defined and broken down by the terrible things that have happened to them. I was just so taken aback by the fact that she made that connection because I wasn’t expecting it at all and it emotionally drew me in even further than before.
“You are the voices for our community.” As visiting volunteers, we have a great responsibility to do more than just the physical work here in New Orleans. We need to take these stories with us and share them in our own communities. Just as we tell those who cannot see Virginia Tech as more than just the place “where that bad thing happened,” what it truly has to offer, we have to do the same thing for New Orleans. We carry the essential role of redefining this incredible city in a positive way. As Miss Warrenetta said, “Every building here has a story.” And I feel that all of these beautiful stories deserve to be preserved and shared with the rest of the world.
I joined this trip expecting to give back to New Orleans, but New Orleans has given me so much more and I will forever be grateful for these experiences.
By Jason Neiswinter