Fighting Poverty with Passion
Over the past year and half I have led and facilitated volunteer projects with just over 500 volunteers and have removed close to 200 bags of debris through various clean up projects. As I sit and reminisce on the person I was when I started this journey vs. the one I am now, I’m honestly surprised where I’ve gotten thus far. Truly. Having just graduated college, terrified of public speaking, I can reflect and say that I’ve learned a lot and grown from it. The experience I gained was mostly due to my supervisor’s guidance and through the lessons this wonderful community has taught me. My supervisor had a definition above his desk (which he probably never thought I read, but hey I did after all!) that defined community development as activities that build stronger and more resilient communities through an ongoing process of identifying and addressing needs, assets, and priority investments.
Some of these activities include direct community improvements such as clean ups. Though these clean ups may seem like a short term and trivial solution to the outside eye, I believe they are a key part of the process that creates stronger and more resilient communities. Whenever we have groups of volunteers out in the neighborhood picking up trash or pulling away weeds from a blighted property, there are always neighbors that pass by or come out on their porch and thank them for their great work. Though it’s not necessarily correlated, whenever we were able to clear a sidewalk of overgrown weeds or clean up the front of a blighted house, within the next year some those properties were redeveloped and brought back into commerce, creating more housing for our neighborhood.
We all want vibrant communities that are safe, walkable, free of trash, lively and diverse. Working on community improvements that directly impact people’s quality of life is the most rewarding part of the work that I do. Cleaning up overgrown lots and homes that have sat untouched for years shows the community that we care. Showing someone that you care means that they are valued and that they deserve to be treated in the best possible way. Though it’s slightly corny, I try to live by the golden rule, something that my dad preached to me since I was little. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s served me well throughout my life and I try to bring it into everything that I do.
I have seen so much of the work during my two VISTA terms create positive change, however two weeks ago I was more or less shocked back into reality and realized that this progress can change in the blink of an eye. The image to the right is an aerial view of some damaged homes in New Orleans East after a horrible tornado hit two weeks ago. An entire community was destroyed, with memories, possessions and families lost with it. No amount of clean ups, community meetings, tree plantings could have prevented something as horrific as this tornado from tearing through New Orleans, nor could it have changed it’s outcome. As I removed salvaged items from my friend’s desecrated work building, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I knew they will have to do to get back on their feet. Hundreds of families and businesses will spend the next few years repairing the damage that was done by a force of nature in about an hour or two, which is mind-blowing to think about. The only thing that brought me hope was remembering the work that was done by the BIA directly after Hurricane Katrina to galvanize residents to rebuild and bring the neighborhood back, stronger and more resilient than before.
These rebuilding efforts will take time, aid, volunteer help, sweat and tears. But there’s something beautiful in the resiliency of this city that has given so much and still has so much left to give that will make it whole once again. I continue to be impressed by my friends and coworkers who are at the front lines of these efforts, not because they have to but because they possess the spirit to do unto others as they would have them do unto themselves.
** If you would like to help with the rebuilding efforts or donate to relief funds check out nola.com’s list of ways to do so here.