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.

The Faces of our 2018 Alternative Spring Break Scholarship Recipients

Friday, March 30th, 2018

By Dianne Anderson*

Spring break is underway at many colleges in the nation. Our University of Colorado Boulder scholarship recipients are off on their Alternative Spring Break – volunteering in various parts of the U.S., with funding made possible through the Casey Feldman Foundation. Take a look at these outstanding young people.

Jaela Zellers

Jaela Zellers – Jaela is a junior majoring in integrative physiology with a double minor in Spanish and women and gender studies, with the hopes of becoming a physician.  A native of Georgia, Jaela has consistently worked 3-4 part-time jobs while taking 18 credit hours per semester. Despite her own hardships at home, sometimes not knowing where her next meal would come from, Jaela has managed to help others through filling boxes of food for the needy or helping build a home through Habitat for Humanity. Zaela works at the Volunteer Resource Center on campus and is currently organizing a service project focused on women’s empowerment for the Better Boulder Day of Service. Jaela’s Alternative Spring Break is in environmental conservation where she is working to protect the habitat and build trails on Catalina Island, CA.

Nicole Fernandez-Perez

 

Nicole Fernandez-Perez – Nicole is a senior and a first generation college student majoring in psychology and minoring in ethnic studies. She currently works with Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN) in Boulder where she supports survivors of domestic violence. Nicole is also a part of Pi Lambda Chi Latina Sorority Inc.,  where she works to preserve Latina culture in the Latino communities near the CU campus. Nicole is participating in the Disability Advocacy Spring Break Trip in Springfield, Missouri where she is working with a non-profit that focuses on building self-esteem, self confidence and social skills in children and adults with disabilities through education, sports training and competition.

 

Jose “Santos” Navarro

Jose “Santos” Navarro –  Santos, a first-generation American, is a freshman majoring in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology with ultimate hopes of working one day in the Astrobiology Institute at  NASA. Throughout high school, Santos was an outdoor counselor who helped at-risk 5th graders from schools in troubled areas. Often, his biggest responsibility there was to simply be a source of support for the children by listening and hearing their stories. Santos’ Alternative Spring Break has taken him to Houston, TX where he is working in disaster relief, helping to rebuild homes and the community in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane which occurred last year. In looking forward to his week in Houston, Santos stated, “I can’t wait to represent CU Boulder and carry on the values of service through our actions.”

Tim Inthavong

Tim Inthavong –  Tim is a junior studying economics and business and hopes to work one day for a hospital as a health administrator. Tim is the child of a single refugee mother with four siblings and has always worked to help support his family. Despite this, Tim has found time to volunteer in and around his work and studies. Whether working with low income communities by teaching youth about the sciences, or volunteering on Saturdays at the Have A Heart food and clothing bank, Tim feels best when he can be of service to others. Tim’s Alternative Spring Break is taking place in New Orleans, LA where he is helping to rebuild homes for the needy. As he was leaving for the trip, Tim said, “I can’t wait to make a difference!”

 

Thank you Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship recipients for making a difference in the lives of others! We look forward to hearing about your service work upon the completion of your trips!

________________________________________

Dianne and Casey, Christmas 2006

 

*Dianne Anderson  is the mother of the late Casey Feldman and co-founder of The Casey Feldman Foundation.