While in New Orleans we have been staying at the St. Jude Rebuilds Community Center. While the accommodations are far from those in a hotel, the staff here has been welcoming and wonderful! The shelter, which was intentionally chosen to add one more element to our experience, has not only given us a place to stay for our time in New Orleans, it has given us the opportunity to grow closer as a group.
The shelter serves as a soup kitchen each day, providing meals to many people who are homeless. Those meals are distributed starting at 7:30am, so every morning our group needs to be awake, shower, eat breakfast, pack our brown-bag lunches, and be out of the community center main room by that point. For most of the week we have been sharing the shelter with a large group of high school students from Arizona doing a senior project here.
The beds are triple-layered bunks in large dormitory-style rooms. They are seperated by men and women, and each room can easily accommodate up to 30-40 people. Each night, upon our return from the rebuild sites, we eat a community dinner prepared by the cooks at the shelter, have a bit of free time, hold an hour-long class session (where discussions are facilitated by different students each night), watch a portion of the documentary “When the Levees Broke”, and then respond to specific journal prompts chosen for each day. Each day is long and tiring, but produces some of the most inspired, critical, and memorable conversations I’ve heard…and our setting just adds to that.
The students in this class have been so positive, motivated, and energetic this entire week, getting more so as each day has gone on – completely defying the “normal” effects of early mornings, long days, hard work, and very minimal accommodations. We talk about the situation in New Orleans being about more than Hurricane Katrina; being about our society, about people and issues being too easily overlooked or forgotten about…but talking about it, of course, cannot begin to compare with experiencing a different aspect of life – even if just for a week. Our shelter has been more than a place we’ve called home this week…it’s been a subtle, yet important, component of this learning experience.