ACE and Alternative Breaks 2012 in NOLA

J. Michael Cruz, director of the Dedman College Center for Academic-Community Engagement (ACE), is participating in the Alternative Breaks trip to New Orleans in December. Participants in the trip, which is co-sponsored by ACE and the office of Community Engagement and Leadership, are working with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. You can follow the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SMU.ACE

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Our last day on the job

Our last day on the job

As usual, we started the day with Dan making pancakes for everyone at 8am, and then we were out the door by 830am to be on site by 9am.

Since we’ve been here for almost a week, we’re pretty much trained and are able to work well with minimal direction. (We’ve actually been on site for so long, we’ve even become accustomed to knowing where tools are in the house – so if someone is looking for a hammer or a nail gun or paintbrush, we know exactly where we’ve seen one last!)

With this being our last day we went right to work completing the tasks we were working on yesterday – measuring, cutting, installing, hammering, nailing, painting, deconstructing, etc.

Karissa painting baseboards

We split up into our same teams of two from yesterday. Emily and I measured walls for the cutting of quarter-inch round. Shauna and Danny were in charge of cutting the trim. Adam worked with Turk and Prince. Dan, Monica, and Karissa cut more wood for the exterior framing of windows. Anthony and Janice painted trim. Kimberly spent the morning caulking cracks between the baseboards and the wall.

We did this all morning and then took our normal lunch at noon to eat our sack lunches either in the van or in the warm sun. For our post-lunch treat we went back to the gelato place, Angelo Brocato, for some of their amazing dessert.

Monica cleaning the saws

For the rest of the day we finished doing what we had been – almost all of the installed trim was painted; Janice, Anthony, and Karissa helped with that. All of the caulking was completed by Kimberly. Adam put up sheet rock on the studs for the wall in the front room that Dan, Karissa, and Monica were working on yesterday. And all of the pre-installed trim was primed.

Various other tasks were completed, too, at some point during the day – Monica caulked around the outside windows and oiled/cleaned the table saws; Danny helped with the baseboard painting and also removed damaged siding from the back of the house; several of us cleaned paintbrushes; I painted pre-installed baseboard trim with Shauna and Emily; Emily installed baseboard trim with the nail gun, etc.

At the end of the day, we all felt quite accomplished. We were thanked by Mr. Leonard, Ryan, Prince, William, and Lauren for our work.

Emily, Shauna and J. Michael

After some pretty wonderful and silly photos we headed back to the hostel for a quick reflection. Tonight’s reflection consisted of asking students to document all of what they ate yesterday and then illustrate how much they think an average person living at the poverty line had to eat yesterday. They then discussed their drawings. The reflection posed the following questions:

  • What was your favorite service moment?
  • How will you use this trip in the future/What will you do with this trip? (This question addresses how students will utilize the service experience going forward).
  • Last, students were asked to write a letter to themselves about the experience here. They will turn in the letters, and AB Site Leaders intend to call us all back for a reflection in the spring and the letters will be discussed then.

Because tonight was the last night in town, students decided they wanted to eat at a restaurant and listen to live jazz. They selected a small outdoor café in the heart of the French Quarter named Café Biegnet, where we dined on red beans and rice, jumbalaya, muffaletta, and beignets. While we ate, the jazz player Steamboat Willie sang holiday music and old bluesy favorites.

After dinner we walked down Bourbon Street for several blocks in each direction before heading back to the van in order to reach the hostel early enough for everyone to pack. We plan to leave tomorrow at 630am to make a quick stop at Café Du Monde on our way out of town.

NOLA has been great, and YRNO does a fantastic job of both helping young people become involved with service and rebuilding their community, and with helping teachers/working adults move into homes they may not otherwise be able to afford. Personally, I feel this has been a great experience working with a group of students I didn’t know before and may never have in class. It has also been a wonderful opportunity to indicate to students how Dedman College, through ACE, is committed to service and engagement.

You can also follow ACE on Facebook.

What a feeling of accomplishment!

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