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    Email to Parents from Day #3 of The NOLA Tree's Spring Program

    Hey All...


    We talk a lot about initiative down here, and it's amazing to see how our volunteers are already rising to the occasion.  The Americorps volunteers needed help with the dishes at Camp Hope, and Max, Alejandro, Alvaro and Sofia stayed an extra hour to lend a hand.  Several others cleaned out our vans.  And still another volunteered to clean our tables after each meal.  It's pretty cool to see (though we can't guarantee the behavior will be replicated at home).


    It was also pretty cool to see everyone up at 5:45 in the morning and at breakfast and ready to go by 6:30.
    We had our first day orientation and then headed to our job site.  It's great because this week we'll all be working on the same projects.  Today, we were at St. Margaret's, a nursing home in the Lower Ninth that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.  Four years later, it still needs to be gutted and cleaned out.  That's what we did.  We got incredibly dirty, but boy was it fun!  We loaded up nearly two full dumpsters of rubble.  We used sledgehammers and shovels and crowbars to knock down walls and rip up floors.  It was a full day of work.


    But before we headed back to Camp Hope, we decided to make two stops.  First, we checked out the Green Project, a fascinating local exchange, where New Orleans residents can purchase items for their homes that simply cannot be found in Home Depot or Lowe's.  Then it was off to school at Blair Grocery on Alabo Street.  Our friend, Brennan, told us all about the school, the farm and all the animals (goats, chickens, dogs).
    Now we're back at Camp Hope.  For dinner, it was rice and beans.  It's a New Orleans tradition to eat this dish on Mondays.


    Tonight's debrief looks like it's going to be as intensive and thought-provoking as last night as we discuss faith and pride.
    By the way, we heard it was rainy in the northeast today.  Sunny skies and seventy two degrees here!


    Peace, Phil and Ana



    The NOLA Tree's First Spring Program -- Lots of Exciting News!

    We leave for New Orleans next Saturday! This is going to be an incredible adventure.


    Well, here is a sampling of what we have planned (this text is taken from an email we sent to group members)...

    Last year, Dave Eggars, one of the most acclaimed authors of this generation, wrote a book called "Zeitoun." The book tells the amazing story of Abdul Zeitoun and what he went through in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Well, Abdul and Kathy Zeitoun have invited our group to their home on Sunday March 28. Of course, we will adequately prepare the group for the visit, but we also recommend that you read the book, perhaps one of the most important books you will ever read. Johnathan Demme ("Philadelphia," "Silence of the Lambs") is currently making it into a film. Here is the Amazon.com link as well as the link to the Zeitoun's Foundation.



    Second, on Friday evening April 2, our last night in New Orleans, the group will be attending a jazz concert at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. Peter Fleischer has generously donated 18 tickets to the show. We will also be able to meet some of the musicians prior to the performance. A big thank you goes out to Karen Strauss for linking us up with Peter.

    Finally, we are in the process or arranging a meeting with Katy Reckdahl, a staff reporter for the Times-Picayune. We are hoping to arrange for a tour of New Orleans' largest daily newspaper. Katy's story is also a fascinating one. On August 28, 2005, on the eve of Hurricane Katrina, she gave birth to her son in a New Orleans hospital. Here is a YouTube link to a firsthand account of her ordeal.


    This is going to be an amazing trip!


    The Soul of The NOLA Tree in Action, Helping Haiti, Part II

    A young person’s experience with The NOLA Tree consists of much more than an individual lending a helping hand. We focus on educating our participants, exposing them to the history, geography, politics, people and culture of the region in which they are working.

    Those words come directly from our organization's business plan. Now while our volunteers aren't helping out in Port-au-Prince, Aubry, or Croix-des-Bouquets yet -- yet -- it hasn't stopped them from wanting to learn more about the country they are so desperately trying to help.

    So this past Saturday evening, seven teenagers from The NOLA Tree gathered in a suburban living room and met with Niky Fabiancic, a Resident Representative from the United Nations Development Plan.

    Mr. Fabianic shared with the volunteers the story of Haiti and the Haitian people. He discussed how Haiti rebelled against and gained its independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century. He emphasized how the revolution and independence meant freedom for blacks and how Haiti became the first black-led republic in the world. Unfortunately, the rest of the western world didn't share in this view of equality and civil rights. As a result, Haiti was forced into international and economic isolation. In order to survive, the Haitian people had no choice but to enter into a relationship with France that would lead to decades of economic turmoil.

    Then Mr. Fabiancic spoke about the United Nation's current mission in Haiti (as well as elsewhere). He discussed his department and what they were trying to do to help the Haitian people after the devastating earthquake. He also raised concerns about some of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) aiding in the recovery effort. Many were failing to involve the local communities. He emphasized the importance of teaching the people how to help themselves, and at the moment, not enough of that was taking place.

    Well, that's how The NOLA Tree volunteers want to try and play a role. So inspired by the meeting, volunteers from our group have already put the wheels in motion to organize an assembly at the high school where several of them attend. Mr. Fabincic will be a guest speaker, and money will be raised for the Haitian earthquake relief effort.

    Without a doubt, that is just the beginning.

    As Margaret Mead said,

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

    So, so true.


    The Soul of The NOLA Tree in Action, Helping Haiti, Part I

    "Young people make up the soul of The NOLA Tree. They are the common thread that runs through all of our initiatives. Without question, the success of our organization lies within our young volunteers."

    When we first drafted The NOLA Tree’s business plan last summer, we outlined six “Keys to Success.” The words above served as the preamble to that section of the plan.

    Well, over the course of these last few weeks, we have seen the soul of our organization in action. It is inspiring. It is a story that needs to be shared.

    In response to the earthquake in Haiti, The NOLA Tree originally intended to take a “bigger picture” approach. Mindful of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina and cognizant of the inevitability of “disaster fatigue,” The NOLA Tree sought to be in a position to help out weeks, months and even years down the road. That is still our organization’s goal, but it wasn’t enough for our volunteers. Our young participants wanted to lend a hand now.

    Heeding that call, Ana Galan, one of The NOLA Tree’s Executive Directors, learned about the AFYA Foundation through one of our volunteers, Jake Feinman. AFYA is an organization that partners with a network of donor hospitals, health organizations, corporations, and individual households for the collection of medical supplies. They needed help sorting through clothing and medical supplies headed for Haiti.

    Our young volunteers jumped at the opportunity to help. Four times these last few weeks, Ana has led groups of young people to the bitter cold warehouse in Yonkers, New York, where they’ve spent hours preparing the shipments bound for Haiti.

    However, this still wasn’t enough for these sixteen teenagers. They wanted to do more. So some of them got their parents involved, too, and after this weekend, nine parents are now part of the effort, and without a doubt, more will be coming aboard.

    Service is contagious. Helping others is contagious. Our volunteers are leading the way.

    This past Saturday evening, seven teenagers from The NOLA Tree met with Niky Fabiancic, a Resident Representative from the United Nations Development Plan.

    Here’s what our volunteers plan to do next…

    Sorting Clothes and Medical Supplies for Haiti

    Thank you to all of our volunteers who participated in this event, and thank you to the the AFYA Foundation (http://www.afyafoundation.org) for organizing this drive.  These boxes full of clothes, food and medical equipment, will be shipped to Haiti this week.