My Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans – A Rewarding and Unforgettable Experience

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

By Tim Inthavong*

My fellow CU volunteers and I while working with Common Ground Relief

There are significant moments that change a person’s life and how they view the world, and my Alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans was an unforgettable experience that I will remember forever. I am truly grateful to the Casey Feldman Foundation for funding my trip with a scholarship stipend which enabled me to volunteer to help a community and environment in need.

At the outset, my fellow volunteer students and I from the University of Colorado Boulder worked with the nonprofit, Common Ground Relief  headquartered in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Founded initially in 2005 to provide disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina, Common Ground has since revised it’s mission to reflect a forward-looking focus to restore and preserve Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. Wetlands are crucial to prevent flooding since they hold water much like a sponge, helping to keep river waters normal, and slowly releasing water when levels are low. In addition to many other benefits, the wetlands provide a habitat for a diverse group of wildlife.

After being introduced to the environmental issues affecting the Lower Ninth Ward community due to Hurricane Katrina, our group worked at a plant nursery where we watered and removed weeds from bull grasses that would be used to restore the wetlands. My favorite and most rewarding  experience was then actually planting the bull grasses onto the wetland floor.

In the wetlands where we worked to plant bull grasses

At first, I felt uncomfortable and was in fact, very nervous to physically plant them. I worried about the difficulty in moving through all of the thick algae and the uncertainty as to how deep I was swimming. I continued however, and planted the grasses. I felt great satisfaction afterwards in knowing that I had contributed to helping to restore the wetlands and mitigate the effects of a future hurricane on the people of New Orleans. The experience had another strong impact on me as well, in that it served as a learning opportunity.  I realized that it’s okay to be scared in a new and uncomfortable situation and that by proceeding in the face of it, I can conquer that fear.

My group also performed volunteer work at Crevasse 22, an indoor and outdoor art exhibit with an ecological theme.  It sits in a natural area of forests and marshes and contains a deep lake, created by a crevasse, or breach in the levee in 1922.  It is steps away from the Mississippi River and borders St. Bernard State Park. Our work there was to uproot and get rid of  invasive plants damaging the natural habitat of wildlife. This service that was done was the most difficult, but it was extremely rewarding to know that our work was supporting a safe environment for animals to live and grow their population. I thought of Casey Feldman and her love of animals and how my work there was made possible through the Foundation established in her memory. It was deeply gratifying knowing that I was honoring and continuing her legacy.

My Alternative Spring Break trip also afforded me the opportunity to create and build new relationships.  My group and I traveled together in a van for 40 hours round-trip from Boulder, Colorado and lived and worked together the entire week. I did not know any of my fellow volunteers when the trip began, but, by the end of the week, I had 15 close friends  –  David Ruin, Julia Book, Tyler Ennis, Danya Arie, Diantha McAllister, Elise Warnock, Emma Blanken, Feben Kassahun, Hiba Abdali, Jose Canizares, Julia Smith, Maggie Hearn, Marissa Kelly, Mohammed, Pujan Tandukar, Vladimir Brizuela. Without them, the service week would not have been as enriching an experience.

I came into this trip far from my community in Westminster, Colorado not knowing much about the environmental issues facing the people of New Orleans and it’s wildlife habitat. But, by at the end of the week, I had gained so much knowledge about the issues facing the people of Louisiana 12 years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

As I get older and look back at this trip, I can say “I really made in impact on others.”  It makes me smile to know that I made a difference through an experience that I was able to share with others. Above the clouds, I picture Casey Feldman smiling too.

On the site of Crevasse 22 where we worked to remove invasive species

In the forest at Crevasse 22

 

_____________________

*Tim Inthavong just completed his junior year at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is studying economics and business and would like to work  for a hospital as a health administrator after graduating. He is one of five children of a single refugee mother whom he has worked to support in and around his studies and volunteer work.