When 70 students from Royal Oak High School board the buses at 5:00 am next Sunday morning, few will be thinking how their work in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, will be life-changing.
They will be excited. They will undoubtedly be cold! They will be anxious for the ride and the bad DVDs we will watch over the next 18 hours of travel. They will wonder about the sleeping arrangements, if their air mattresses will work. They will be texting their friends . . . the entire way.
Some will be thinking about their skills, what to expect on the worksites we visit that week. Some will think about the winter vacation time they are giving up—how they will be missing nights that end late or mornings to sleep later.
Most won’t understand yet that some families in Plaquemines have been without their homes for 18 months since Hurricane Isaac flooded them with waters worse than those from Katrina. They won’t consider how vital our work is—that ours is the only volunteer group working there, the only chance this season for American families to get a start on rebuilding.
Few—even those upperclassmen who have made this journey before with Interact, Royal Oak’s youth Rotary—know that perhaps their most important job that week will be to listen to the stories of those who lost everything.
I’m excited for them, because the life-changing they do will be in those meetings. Over the past seven trips we have taken—from Joplin to Tuscaloosa and from Galveston to Nashville—I have watched it happen.
It was meeting NOLA’s Robert Green who lost two family members in Katrina waiting in the Lower Ninth Ward and who told my students, “You may be a drop in the bucket, but I’ve seen a lot of drops fill a lot of buckets.” It was when a group of Interact students unexpectedly returned piles of clean clothes they had gathered from a tornado’s debris to a family who had escaped only with what they were wearing. It was when they set up a makeshift child care station for families completing FEMA forms in Joplin and met children who drew them pictures of the F5 tornado which had erased their neighborhood.
It will be a week of crowbars and hammers, saws and sledges, working in rain and wind. Most of these students will gain a sense of power in their ability to make a difference; our education jargon calls it “personal efficacy.” It is education about purpose.
I’m already proud of them, of course. And during the week of Feb. 17-22, expect to hear from them on The Patch at this blog, reflecting on their experiences. We’ll add photos and video where we can, as well.
This year’s winter break will earn them only one morning to sleep in before they return to school, and they will have earned it.
Follow our trip on Twitter as well: @schisnell or visit our website: www.chisnell.com/interact/february.