Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Life Lessons

            High school is an important four years of a person’s life. It’s the transition between being a small and naive child into an adult capable of leaving home either to college or the workforce. High school is required to mold students, give them the skills and confidence in order to be successful. Some people find this change through sports, or personal experiences or other clubs. I found this necessary change through service learning. I have been in service learning groups since my freshmen year when I was in the New York Service Learning Trip. For the following three years I did NOLA and now that the final school trip is done I’ve looked back and was able to see how fully responsible service learning is for the person I am today.
            Back in middle school I was quiet, shy and invisible to everyone except my friends. I was scared of everything, unable to even raise my hand in class because I was afraid I would be wrong. Then I entered freshmen year and I felt like I faded even more and got more scared; there were too many new people, I rarely was in classes with my close friends (All my friends were in band), and the school was huge. I signed up for the New York Service trip because my sister was in NOLA and it sounded like fun. I was glad when I got in but if I had known how important to me this program would become I would’ve been fully and utterly relaxed.
            The change started at the first fundraiser New York did; we went to a professional hockey game and sold chuck-a-puck bags. The problem was we had to get people to buy them and to do that we needed their attention. I knew I had to yell. For someone who spoke few words to people I wasn’t comfortable with I was freaked out. I made a choice though in that moment; I was comfortable with Kane, I was comfortable with the other NY girl I was with and I wanted the fundraiser to be successful, so I started yelling. I yelled and I yelled and I yelled until my throat was sore and I knew what I was doing was alright and nothing to be afraid of. We left that night with our fundraiser successful and me just a little less scared of the world.
            Over the next few years change like this occurred slowly as all change occurs but each meeting, each fundraiser gave me more personal skills and knowledge. NOLA has taught me such simple things as how to talk to professional people on the phone, how to advertise, how to plan events, how to speak in front of large groups of people and how to organize sales. These simple things were followed by larger ideas; NOLA taught me to be confident of myself, taught me to be comfortable in new situations, and most importantly taught me I have a lot of offer to the world.

            This year I am about to graduate. I have multiple schools to choose from, multiple paths my life can take. I’m not afraid though, the idea of college terrified me four years ago but now I know I will be successful in any of the paths I choose. The only thing I’m scared about is that I won’t be able to have another experience as amazing as NOLA has been. Each year when I go down to New Orleans I am given a week with 40 people who care about me and trust me like I care and trust them. I get to work as hard as I possibly can while leaving behind all my trouble from school or my personal life. NOLA is a break from life where I have a huge family; everyone should be able to experience this type of personal experience.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Homesickness at Home

"It's a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what's changed is you." -F. Scott Fitzgerald


    
     I know no one said it would be easy, but I also don't recall anyone saying it would be this hard. Today I found myself stuck in a rut. It's so difficult because my body's here, but my head and heart are in New Orleans. Today I had an attention span the size of a peanut and sitting here right now I am still unable to self motivate enough to even pick up the unfriendly looking homework. No matter what I was doing today, I could not keep my focus on anything for more than 5 seconds. So here I am, staring at my blinking cursor and the Google homepage attempting to start a 7 page research paper on the cult of domesticity at 7 in the morning, but all I can think about is how I would much rather be watching the sunrise in New Orleans and eating breakfast with 48 other people. Here I am forgetting every Spanish vocabulary word I've ever known apparently, but I'd much rather be starting off my day at a worksite or even learning ladder safety from Twiggy and Darrell (yeah, I'm that desperate...UM). Here I am completely missing every entrance and dynamic marking in wind symphony, but I'd much rather be enjoying my satisfying lunch break in the warm sun. And here I am, getting off the bus to go home. An extremely peculiar thing for me to do seeing as it is Monday, and for the past 10 months, 2:00 to 3:30 every Monday has been a special time slot reserved for NOLA meetings and nothing else. I would much rather be at a meeting. Or on the balcony. Or around the fire at reflection. As awful as it sounds, I would much rather be there than here (sorry mom).
      
"If you want to know where your heart lies, look to where your mind goes when it wanders."




     I want to write very plainly about this so that anyone reading who was not on the trip can get a slight understanding for what I'm saying and might even be comforted by the honesty. Before this trip when NOLA veterans would speak of New Orleans being their 'home away from home', I told myself that was...bologna...for lack of a better word (mom's probably reading this, gotta have censorship). The concept of a place feeling like home after only 8 days seemed strange and unfeasible to me. I was mistaken. After just a few days down in New Orleans you get into a routine that you become comfortable with, both mentally and physically you start to conform to this routine so that it becomes second nature and hard to break. After having such a tough time readjusting to "reality" at school today, I've started to think: how odd that I can feel so misplaced in the only place I've ever known as home, yet in New Orleans I felt a sense of comfort and belonging even after only a handful of days.


~Dominique

Recipe for Happiness

Endorphins give an absolutely euphoric sensation, mix endorphins with service learning and you will find the most incredible feeling in the world. Gutting a house is extremely taxing work. While gutting you are conscious of every inch of your body, your arms ache from hammering at the ceiling, your back burns from bending in every direction, your feet become exhausted from the extra weight of sledge hammers, however the one thing that feels sensational is your heart. The house has a way of speaking to you in a non creepy or haunted way but in a way in which you can learn to appreciate it's history. The "Dust Crew" (my amazing group) found a Halloween mask, a newspaper from 1946, family photos, and sport equipment bag underneath the rubble. Standing in a room covered with rotting wood, chunks of the wall, and dust I could still envision the moments that took place there. Being able to imagine the birthdays, weddings, family dinners that took place in that home was amazing. I felt like I was becoming a part of those memories in a way.  It was an amazing experience not only to destroy a wall but gaining the ability to connect with your work on an emotional level is up-lifting. Connecting with the Dust Crew, the house, and my work was completely transformational.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Stars & Scars

               It is so difficult to find a way to interpret the innumerable amount of reflections I've had to summarize the past three years of NOLA. There have been so many memories made, all of which I will always cherish and pass on to those I love. I will try to explain an epiphany I've been realizing the past few days... As hard work and dedication drive every student involved in this organization, there are bound to be a frequent manifestation of scars. I'm not referring to the scars you'd anticipate to read about. I am writing about the ones that have no meaning on the outside, but the ones that have an ethereal meaning on the inside. Everyone that has experienced the thrill and euphoria of this journey understands what I mean. The scars hold celestial memories, like that of gutting an entire house embodied by a gash or a scratch. The torn knuckles created by jagged siding that was painted so meticulously. The skinned knees formed from playing too much knock-out at the basketball court. The cut elbows from pulling hundreds of pounds of food from an enormous box to redistribute to families in need. Every scar has its purpose and its message. Those that are left on the inside are sometimes even more profound than the cosmetic wounds. The feeling of dismay when a man or woman has no place to stay but an abandoned parking lot. The mourning of those whose lives were stolen by a storm of unthinkable proportion. The sadness that is spawned by the harsh reality of privilege. Scars represent the materialization of remembrance and consciousness of a life lived. They are not a negative aspect of life, but a reassuring one, and one that portrays a moment in time that a lesson was learned. New Orleans has left many scars on all of us, both good and bad. Do not take advantage of them. Remember why they are there and what part of your life was affected by their existence. Reflect on how you may have affected those around you in that moment. Now look at the stars. They are a paradigm of hope. The bright quiver of light they radiate so far up above us symbolizes an illuminated future. Use the lessons of your past to guide you and to push forward. If you set goals and have aspirations you will accomplish anything, no matter of its arduousness. You will discover the real you by examining your stars and scars. The hope, memories, aspirations, inspirations, motivation, and passions you have are all inside of you, just waiting to be unveiled. New Orleans has proven this to me. Everyone who participated in service learning at my side also know it. I am so grateful and proud to have been a part of this experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I have opened my eyes to a greater perspective and have finally learned that everything in life serves a purpose. I hope I've touched the hearts of others as much as they have mine. Inspiration is not easy to come by, but NOLA has provided me all I've ever needed and what I have to show for it are my scars and the stars above.

-Bryan Vachon


To Do List

Does anyone ever really find themselves? Or are we always searching for something that we may never find. We all feel lost, out of place and we're just looking for somewhere to belong. We're all too busy trying to find ourselves on some dramatic journey that we can't see we've already been found. We're just waiting for our mind to be ready to accept who you are. NOLA is my home and it's where I belong. I learned more in this week about myself than I had ever hoped to. As I expressed at reflection on our last night I feel as though I've lost myself somewhere along the road and I'm desperately trying to find where I fell off. I've done some thinking this week and I came up with a "To Do List" to live a happier and more fulfilled life.

1. Start putting everything you have into anything you do. Either you put 100% effort into what you're doing or don't do it. What's the point of doing something if it isn't your absolute best. Why waste your time?

2. Forgive and forget. Stop dwindling on the past. There's nothing you can do to change the past. It's dead and gone. You have to learn from your mistakes and go with the flow.

3. Cherish your family. They're always going to be there for you no matter what. It doesn't matter how frustrated they make you at the end of the day they're the ones who know you better than anyone.

4. The love you give into this world is the same amount you're going to receive. If you're putting out negative vibes that's all you'll receive.

5. Accept others for what they are. Don't try to change them and make them something they aren't. If everyone was able to forget about everyone's differences and live in harmony the World could be such a beautiful place.

6. Accept yourself. Sometimes all you have is yourself. If you can't love yourself how can you live a happy life. Don't try to change yourself, you are who you are and that's OK. You don't need to conform to anything in this World. You just do what makes you happy and that's all that matters.

Every year I venture down to NOLA I learn more and more about myself. I don't know where I would be without this program. It's shaping me into what I want to be and it's making me a better person. I still haven't found exactly what I'm looking for but does anyone really? It's opened my eyes to all the beauty in the World and I feel for the first time I can see clearly.

Meg Hawkins

My New Home

Over the past 10 months, I have had probably one of the strangest experiences any high school kid could have. I've stayed after school for days on end, begged Starbucks and Paneras for pastry and coffee donations after others had fallen through, planned fundraisers, served around the community, gained 48 new family members, and changed my life. No matter how crazy busy my life has been this year, it has easily been the best yet, and an amazing way to end my high school career.

I have only been a part of NM's Service Learning program for two years now, unlike many who have been for four, and I regret every second of freshmen and sophomore year for not signing up. Through this program I have learned the values of life, how to appreciate what I have, and realize how lucky I am to be raised the way I was. I've always known that I was lucky, because I always have 3 meals a day, have a roof over my head, and a family that loves and cares about me, but I never really understood that some people don't have this.

Over the past 8 days, I'm pretty sure the whole experience was just a roller coaster that hasn't even come to an end yet, starting at the top with the plane ride down with 42 of my closest friends, and still running now with coping with being back in Townsend again. From touring the lower ninth, to  visiting the quarter. From working at the church, Milton Mary's, Shalom Zone, Houma, Green Light, Arc, and Second Harvest, to our free time, Smoothie King trips, Bops, CiCi's, reflections by the fire, nights on the balcony,and rides in the vans, I don't know what I would do without every single person in the program.

I haven't really come back to reality yet: falling asleep in a room by myself, waking up and eating breakfast alone, and simply wearing a jacket again, it's just not normal again yet. As of right now, I'm definitely on a low part of my own personal roller coaster, as we've been calling it the Post NOLA Depression (believe me it's actually a thing... And so is Senioritis, but that's a story for another day) and it's definitely not the easiest thing, knowing that my last service learning trip with North Middlesex is over, the fact that I've had my final reflection by the fire, and that there are a lot of underclassmen in the group that have the chance to go to New Orleans again and experience it all over. But I know soon enough I'll start climbing back up the hill, maybe it'll be tomorrow morning, making sandwiches in Kane's room with you all again, or maybe I'll be next week, or maybe the next time I make it back down to New Orleans, as I know I will make it back down again someday.

Everyone keeps asking if I'm glad to be home, and asking if we did a lot of work in New Orleans, and my response will always be "I'm glad to be back in Townsend to see my family and friends again, but there's no way I could ever have a more life changing experience with my new family in my new home."

-Sam Meehan

Dear Dylan,

I should've typed and posted this last night when we got off the plane:
    
     These are things I feel I need to tell you about but I don't believe they are things I can be poetic about.
     I've been trying to write this for awhile now. Being 40,000 feet up in the air with nearly 4 hours of spare time, I figure now would be a good time to conjoin my thoughts. Last Saturday, our first full day in New Orleans, we visited the lower ninth ward and saw many parts of the city. Probably to your amazement, we saw much demolition and debris still left from the storm. This is not a poem. We had the opportunity to see and go inside a small, very typical New Orleans style shotgun house. When I say typical not only do I mean in the sense of the architectural layout of the house, but also in the sense that like many other homes in New Orleans, this house was completely destroyed and ripped apart by Katrina. We walked around inside the gutted house, trying to get the slightest idea of what it might have been like to live in this house. This not a poem. You won't know the troubles I've seen unless you've seen them yourselves, likewise, I will never know the troubles these people have experienced because I was not there to experience it.
      I keep looking down at all the blank space on this sheet of paper and then out the window of the plane at skyscrapers that appear to be half the size of my fingernail from up here. At the paper and out the window. Over and over again I repeat this and I am still unsure of what it is exactly that I am trying to convey to you.
     While in the abandoned house we came across a notebook lying on the dusty floor. The notebook contained love letters addressed to Dylan from Monique. The love letters were discussing how she had been and what she had been up to and classes she was taking. In one of them she explained how this was not the only letter she had written to him and not sent. I obviously don't know much about Dylan nor Monique except form whatever I read in the letters, but it got me wondering: would she have ended up sending them?
     Down here at cemeteries, caskets and tombstones are both above ground so that if a storm were to hit again we wouldn't be seeing any caskets coming up from the ground and dead bodies floating down the streets like they've seen before. Mr. Kane was telling us how in some parts of the city if we were to dig down a few feet we would still find parts to washing machines and pieces of appliances from washed out homes.
     These are things I feel I need to tell you about but I don't believe they are things that I can be poetic about. Because there's nothing beautiful about never sent love letters. There's nothing beautiful about abandoned destroyed houses. There's nothing beautiful about spray painted x's on the front paneling to tell you what diseases they found and how many dead bodies they found within the home upon inspection. And there's certainly nothing beautiful about dead bodies breaking out of their caskets and floating down the streets- in a city which is already drowning in 20 feet of water. And that's just the beginning.


~Dominique