Team Hope for Home: The Great Expectations by Anita Chen

ASB Blog Saturday, March 19 

Riiiinnng! My hands instinctively burrow into my pillow searching for my phone. My index finger slides over the front-side recognition button and I roll myself out of bed promptly. It’s 3:30AM; I had barely been able to squeeze two hours of sleep in before the 4AM bus was set to whisk my team members and me off to the Allentown airport. Our destination for Spring Break: New Orleans, Louisiana, the birth city of Jazz!

At 4AM I pushed open the doors of my dorm building. Trudging hurriedly across Anderson Courtyard in the darkness, I felt sleep-deprived and nervous of what would await me. What if something goes wrong on this trip? What if the team members don’t get along? I could of gone back to New York City and spent the break with my friends and family, all of whom I missed dearly. What if this whole trip idea was a mistake?!

I arrived in front of Williams Art Center expecting to be the last one on the bus, but to my surprise the bus hadn’t even arrived yet.

“Anita, over here!” I heard someone call from across the street. Sure enough, on the other side of the street my team members Erik, Leo, and Mike stood, clutching their luggage, and shifting to ease the dawning cold weather. Exchanging small talk as other members slowly trickled in, I wondered how our team dynamic would be. Apart from seeing familiar faces on campus, I honestly never interacted with most, if not any, of the members on our team. Though we met weekly the couple of months preceding the trip, there was really no way to predict what kind of experience we’d have eating, sleeping, and living together for the next week.

Turns out, the bus was half an hour late; and we all know, slumbersome travellers and late vans don’t make the happiest combination or the grandest start to a week-long trip.

Fast forward to 7AM and we, tired souls, have boarded the plane and will momentarily leave taking off for Atlanta, then New Orleans. Not much to say about this part since we all pretty much slept the whole way there. However, I, in particular, was especially excited to board my first plane flight in ten plus years. That’s right, this girl has less travel experience then a tree frog in the forest! Now that I think about it, I must have looked quite foolish phone in hand, face pressed close to the plane window, and peering eagerly to capture in my memory every minute of the plane ride up. Thanks for dealing with me, Ari (my seat partner for the flights)

We arrive in New Orleans at around 2PM. And boy, oh boy! They are not kidding when they say New Orleans rains a lot, and by a lot, I mean heavy rainfall and misty skies. Like the plane ride, my eyes were glued to the window throughout the whole car ride to Camp Hope, where we would be staying for the next week. New Orleans is a mix of suburban housing and city atmosphere. The houses are painted in every color imaginable; each house having it’s own so-called “character.” Also, palm trees. Ugh, beautiful, beautiful palm trees were everywhere. Even ones shaped like pineapples! It’s absolutely amazing how a few miles here and there can completely transform the appearance, atmosphere, and overall feel of each place. New Orleans, itself, is a city of it’s own.

Soon after we arrive by car to Camp Hope, a former school building transformed into a charity headquarter and living arrangement to visiting college groups on service trips. Walt, the owner of the place, greets us in the cafeteria as we enter the first floor of the building. We toured the facility: communal bathrooms, trailer shower rooms, and bunk-bed lined living rooms upstairs. It truthfully was not the ideal living situation, but for a service trip it would do. After all, our mission was to humble ourselves with the experiences that others regularly face.   

After unpacking and settling in, our team decided to split into two for a late lunch break and hopefully double it as exploration time around the city. I joined Camila, Alleyah, Necie, Ari, and Leo to experience authentic seafood in New Orleans at a Cajun Seafood Restaurant. Confused initially about what to order and how to order, I hastily asked for a carton of broccoli and shrimp with a pound of cajun shrimp on the side. Finally seated, my team members and I joked about the how the trip has progressed so far, how spicy the food we ordered was, and what our plans for the rest of the day were. As we laughed and exchanged our ideas and details about ourselves, I felt a sense of comfort and pride in our team. I knew then that this spring break would be an awesome one with unforgettable experiences and incredible people to top it off.


Later that night, we arranged as a group to go see the renowned Preservation Jazz Band perform at Preservation Hall. We strolled around the heart of the French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans (analogous to Times Square in New York City), taking in the nightlife and rich culture that personifies the area so well. There were people wearing flashy apparel dancing in the streets, gift shops selling one-of-a-kind trinkets of voodoo figures and masks, green and red trolleys passing, and horse carriages waiting to transport people. Everything was a sight to be seen.

As expected, the Jazz Band at Preservation Hall was well worth the (long line) wait. The show consisted of various musicians performing musical scores with instruments such as trumpets, tubas, bass, clarinets, piano, drums all meshed into harmonious tones. The music flowed easily as my teammates and I bobbed our heads and swayed in unison. Mhmm.Yes! I could hear Necie praise the music behind me. If I could describe the experience in anyway, which I could never do justice in accurately describing, I’d say it was one of those experiences in life you just want to wrap up and keep in your pocket forever.


After the show, we ended the night exploring Bourbon Street. There more dancing ensued, people crowded the balconies atop buildings throwing beads down, clubs and street performers bounced with music on every corner. You could just tell: Everyone was there to have a good time and no one failed, disappointed.



In the car, heading back to Camp Hope, I close my eyes falling asleep tired, but reassured and happy. Although the first day was long and felt like several days jammed into one, it didn’t matter; we were here now. I am here for Spring Break, in New Orleans, in a magnificent city with multitudes to see, with beautiful, humorous, and down-to-earth people, whom I will share this special, remarkable experience with.

Till next time,

Anita Chen ‘19

Gulf Coast Beginnings

Dear Blog Readers

The last 48 hours have been a combinatinon of exciting, hectic, eye-opening, and really fun.   Lets recap.

The group met outside of Farinon at 4 am Sunday morning.  Although everyone was tired from a long night of packing…. there was a silent confidence amongst the group that this trip was going to be legendary. After a luxurious flight to Houston texas (still find it funny how everyone says “yall” in Texas) we crammed onto an airplane the size of a bathroom stall on our way to Mississippi.  I remember in 2nd grade being taught how to spell Mississippi with that rthymic letter song. (M.. I-s-s…. I-s-s….I-pp-I)  Never thoguht I’d make it down here though. 

After a quick check-in… as a group we set off on our first road trip to New Orleans…. or as the locals say…. “noorlands”. Shoutout to our group leader Liz who made reservations at a delicious Louisiana-style restaurant and let the rest of us gallavant around New Orelans while she waited in line for our table.  The majority of us decided to take a walk down the infamous Bourbon street.  Even though I had heard the stories and rumors…… nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see.  Despite it being 5:30 pm on a Sunday…. you would have thought it was a saturday night summer night.  Adults partying all over the street, strip clubs at every corner, and people in absurd Mardi Gras costumes willing to take pictures with locals.  Beads wrapped around everyones neck and an alcoholic beverage in every hand. As Rocco said best “you can just smell sin in the air”.  Nonethless it was a great experience.  It definitely was something I wanted to see once in my life with my own eyes.

After a quick tour of the party life in New Orelans… it was time to enjoy the finer side of down south.  The restauraunt was ABSOLUTELY delicious.  I could not have dreamed of a more enjoyable meal as I was able to sample Louisiana style Crawfish, shrimp, seafood, and jumbolaya. with all due respect to Lower Farinon Chicken Fritters…. this food was in a league of its own.  After dinner we toured the city as a group and were able to see historical landmarks and witness beautiful scenery out across the Mississippi River.  Despite our flight being pushed back forcing us to have an extremely hectic day rushing around, I still think the decision to go into New Orleans was beyond well-worth it.  Great great experience.

After a 6:45 wake up call the next day…. it was off to breakfast.  Not going to lie…. the food has certainly EXCEEDED expecatiosn thus far (we will see if I’m still saying the same thign on day 4 or 5).  After heading to the worksite… we encountered our project for the week.  At first, when we were told that the house was 90% completed, I was disapointed and thought that there wasn’t going to be much to do.  However, after taking one walk through the house, I would soon realize how much was still left to be done.  I think it finally “hit me” when the homeowner arrived to greet us and provide supplies that this was actually real life.  This poor man and family lost everything and 5 years later is still in the process of gaining it back.  Hopefully… we can all do our part to contribute and help him/his family get back on track.

blog confession:  The group doesn’t know this yet… but I have the “handy” skills of a 5 year old.  Despite being a 22 year old male… I still am unable to correctly turn on an oven, boil water, or cook anything besides Hot Pockets.  But… we don’t need to share that information with Team Gulf Coast just yet.  As the team builder and one of the only students on this trip with a Y chromosome… I need to breathe confience.  I know my squad looks to me for guidance — specifically when it comes to tools and manual labor. lol. nonethless everyone seemed to work really hard today and we seem to really be clicking as a group.  Need to give another shoutout to Megan… who apparently minors in woodshop at Lafayette. absolutely incredible job today.

Overall… I really couldn’t have asked for a better 48 hour start to this trip.  It seems like we have a great group and I am truly looking foward to forming new friendships and learning more about my peers.  I already have gotten close with people I hardly knew last week…. which is great  I signed up on this trip because I wanted to give back to the less fortunate and I believed that this was going to be such a rewarding experience.  Thus far… mission accomplished.

The Beginning: Days 1 & 2

After a little confusion with the time change, a few very unhappy TSA workers, and two plane rides, the Gulf Coast team finally arrived in Mississippi last night. After we unloaded our luggage at LESM Mission on the Bay, we jumped right back into our vans and drove straight to New Orleans.

I had never been to New Orleans before, so I had no idea what to expect. It was quite an experience to walk down Bourbon Street and push my way through the raging crowd, at roughly 5 PM on a Sunday evening. In contrast, Jackson Square was quite a different scene. It was quaint, old-fashioned, and more of what I had expected. It was also very interesting to see how little damage there was in the French Quarter. It was hard to believe the area had ever been flooded, which was NOT the case with  the area where we would be working.

After a scenic stroll through the city, the team had dinner at Acme Oyster House, a typical New Orleans restaurant. My team members were a little more adventurous than I was with their orders. They ate crayfish, oysters, jambalaya, and even a deep fried crab! I don’t eat fish, so it took me a little longer to find something on the menu I would like. After dinner we waited in quite a long line for some delicious bagnettes and headed back to our camp site. Bagnettes are a french pastry, kind of like zeppoles but slightly larger. Aside from the mess of powdered sugar we made in the vans on our ride back to LESM, it was a great night. The group got to bed early so we would be well rested for our activities the next day.

I woke up bright and early this morning, ready to work, at 6:20 AM. After breakfast, we drove out to the house we would be working on for the week. At this point, the house is about ninety percent complete, so we mainly had odd jobs to perform. One of my favorite jobs was cutting and placing the trim for the walls because I got to use power tools to get the job done. I was one of the two people who’d used a band saw before, so I cut most of the trim and taught Dave and Kevin how to use the saw as well. It was a hard day’s work, but there’s still much more to be done.

Our construction supervisor, Rey, informed us that almost all of the funding is gone for Katrina relief. Therefore, it is up to the homeowner to provide funding for rebuilding. If the homeowner does not have sufficient funds to purchase the materials needed to keep working, everything stops. This was very frustrating to hear, but at least we are doing something to help out.

On a happier note, our group is awesome and has been getting along wonderfully! We soaked up some sun at the beach today and are planning a bonfire (with smores!) for later in the week. So far this trip has been a ton of fun as well as a real eye-opening experience. I’m looking forward to finishing more work tomorrow and getting the Clark family out of the FEMA trailer they’ve been living in for the past five years. After today, they are one more step closer to moving into their home!

First Day on the Job

Well, we’ve been down south for almost 3 days now and its been great! The seafood is incredible, the people are amazingly friendly, and work is ready to be done! I guess some people have already talked about our day in New Orleans yesterday so I won’t deal on it. Needless to say, it was incredible! Most surprising was the 9th ward, as I’m sure has already been mentioned. Seeing porches without houses is pretty eye-opening; seeing whole empty lots in what used to be a busy neighborhood is sobering. But it is encouraging to see that life goes on and people make do.

Jeff's tiling adventures

However, we learned today first hand that there’s still work to be done…and a lot of it! Me and some of the other ASBers went to Rob’s house with our team leader Brooke. Brooke was so much fun and really knowledgeable! Never a dull moment working with her and the rest of the team! The house we were working in was less than a mile from the shoreline and had been hit pretty bad by the storm and still was in sore need of work. Today we mainly tiled. Luckily, our Home Depot class had prepared us more than we could have imagined! Most of the tiles were already laid but the outside tiles still needed to be measured, cut, motar-ed, placed, etc! (Basically the hard part!) Brooke was thoroughly impressed with our tiling abilities…even though we felt like amateurs! But by the end of the day we were experts, if I may say so! ;) Using the wet saw was definitely the most fun! (Look ma! No hands!…literally!) Chris and I perfected cutting tiles by the end and tomorrow we are ready to grout! Hopefully, we’ll also be able to start dry-walling tomorrow…which means we get to use the sweet nail gun! =D (Most of the team members are scared to let me get my hands on it…something about me being too excited to use it…=P)

Once we got back, we had a great time hanging out with and meeting some of the other volunteers here at CCC (there are about 60 of us here), including several church groups with some great elderly folks, a couple other college groups, and an Americorp group with some awesome kids on it! Tonight Clarence and I taught some of the spades with varying success, but either way it was fun!

Without being too cliche, I will definitely say I was shocked at how much work still needs to be done down in the Gulf Coast considering that Katrina was 4 years ago! There is still debris lying around, abandoned houses; and in New Orleans, there are lots of houses still with the red X’s on them from when the rescue workers first went out searching for survivors. It’s easy to get discouraged, but good to know that even me, as one volunteer, can make a huge difference when combined with the other volunteers all doing their part too. If lots of people as one person do their adds up! The volunteer organizations in Long Beach alone have had 12,000 volunteers go thru since their creation! Anyway, its getting late (considering we gotta be up at 6am!) so I’m off to bed!

New Orleans

Our first full day! I was nervous before because I didn’t know very much about the trip and was distracted with midterms and such, but ever since the team dinner on Friday night I have been overwhelmed for enthusiasm for this trip. My teammates are so unique and everyone contributes to the group in a special way.
The day started off by a couple of us getting our luggage from the Gulfport Airport. I lucked out and didn’t have to wake-up early. Those of us who stayed behind got to sleep in. There was a church service in the next room, but most of us were pretty tired and were able to sleep through most of it. I didn’t wake up until Rashidah had come back from the airport. The people that had left returned with Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast (yumm…) and all our luggage, which turned out to be soaking wet from sitting in the rain all night long! Finally, at about 11 am we made it out the doors and set off on our adventure to Louisiana.
Our first stop was to visit the French Quarter in New Orleans. The FQ was so lovely! The buildings were gorgeous and the area had lots of charm and a strong sense of community. Most shops and restaurants opened up to the street and there were tons of pedestrians walking around exploring the city. We were able to see unique landmarks such as Jefferson Square, the Supreme Court (this building was an architectural masterpiece), and old French cathedrals. We also saw plenty of street performers including musicians, palm readers, and magicians. There were also men who painted themselves silver or gold and held really still like statues in the middle of the sidewalk. If you paid them, they would pose for a picture with you. I had never seen anything like this before. While we were in the FQ, we enjoyed some

Acme Oyster House Gumbo and Po' Boy
Acme Oyster House Gumbo and Po' Boy

traditional Southern cuisine at Acme Oyster House. Members of our group enjoyed classics such as jumbalya, gumbo, and po’boy sandwiches. Tasty!
After the FQ, we headed to the Honey Island Swamp. At first I was a little skeptical about the excitement a swamp had to offer, but right as we got on the boat I could tell this tour was going to blow us out of the water (pun intended). We started off the tour by driving to a patch of shoreline that was home to about 6 or so houses. During Hurricane Katrina the water level of the swamp rose 18 feet, which was more than enough to go above the roofs of these houses. A couple people were fortunate enough to be able to rebuild their houses, but many houses were abandoned. We could see obvious water and structural damage that made entering the houses a hazard. Throughout the rest of the tour I was able to spot debris from these houses that was carried by the water to other parts of the swamp. No one has been able to clean up the effects of the houses and belongings inside of them. This junk has been cluttering the swamp for years! The swamp is home to many animals, including quite a few endangered species. Household items such as bleach, detergent, and car fluids were released into the swamp when Hurricane Katrina flowed through the houses. The way Hurricane Katrina harmed the fragile swamp ecosystem is less obvious but just as disastrous as the effect of the Hurricane on people. The positive part of our tour was we were able to see many types of wildlife including baby alligators, snakes, and the cutest beaver-esque mammals! Our tour guide was amazing. He was very passionate and knowledgeable about the swamp. After a lovely 2 hour adventure through the Honey Island swamp, we hurried back to New Orleans to drive through the 9th ward before dark.
By the time we got there it was already dark, but what we were able to see was astonishing. The ninth ward was unlike anything I had ever imagined it to be. It was very, very dark. The only light came from our headlights or the handful of houses that had lights on inside. There were no streetlights. Whole blocks of the neighborhood were completely demolished. In the blocks closest to the levee, the ground was bare except for overgrown weeds and the remnants of housing foundations. On a few properties, the only thing left was a concrete porch with steps leading up to it. No house, just the stairs and porch. This sight affected me the most because in my imagination I saw families running up the stairs to chat on the porch or entering the house that was connected once upon a time. Another thing that struck me was how close these houses were to the levees. The levees were just across the street from the neighborhood. I can’t even begin to imagine how frightened the residents must have felt at the moment the levees broke. The levees are basically a glorified wall, yet, that is all there was to protect the 9th ward residents from peril.  I was shocked at the amount of debris that was still lying around years later.  A few families were able to rebuild their houses, but most of the houses were abandoned or barely stable enough to be lived in.  When people looked out their windows they saw the scattered remains of their neighbors homes and lives which reminded them of the atrocities of Hurricane Katrina on a daily basis.  Even worse than the debris, were the houses that were torn apart and crumbling to the ground before our eyes.  These houses still had the spray paint tag from FEMA clearly painted on their walls.  This tag included numbers such as people who used to live in the house and dead bodies recovered from inside.  In my opinion, it is unacceptable for the government to allow death tolls to be plastered all over a neighborhood years after the time it occurred.  It is no wonder the 9th ward has turned into a barren, scary, and depressing ghost of a community.  The whole time we were there we only saw one other person.  We drove around for forty minutes and never saw another car.  The ninth ward is desolate and desperate for our attention and help.  There are boats and cars that have drifted far from their homes.  Houses are stripped to the frame and somehow still manage to stay upright.  As it stands, the 9th ward is hazardous to the safety and morale of its residents.  After being in the 9th ward and roaming the streets that were once filled with joyous families, I know why it is important that I am here.  The communites affected by Hurricane Katrina need our help just as much as they needed it the day after it happened and will continue to need our help for years to come.  One day, the 9th ward will be the vibrant community it was before the storm hit, before the levees broke, and before its needs were ignored by the government.  I am embarassed at how long it took me to come down here and help, but what is important is that I finally made it to the Gulf Coast.  This week, I plan to be unbelievably productive.  After the day trip to New Orleans, I feel passionately about the work I am going to do in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before.  This week, my ASB group is going to make a huge difference in the lives of Hurricane Katrina victims.  Hopefully, our actions will encourage friends, family, and readers of this blog to do the same.