Project Lazarus – New Orleans, LA

We want to thank BLI for the grant support that allowed us to significantly subsidize travel expenses for Alpha Epsilon Delta’s ASB trip to New Orleans! We spent the majority of our trip volunteering at Project Lazarus, the oldest and largest residential facility that supports people living with HIV/AIDS in the Gulf Coast region. In addition to housing, Project Lazarus provides services not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and cultivates a close-knit community among residents. Further, many residents utilize the facility’s serene outdoor spaces in beautiful New Orleans weather.

Justin Pawloski and Emily Lerner work on fixing a bike

During our mornings at Project Lazarus, we played Uno and basketball with the residents. Occasionally, we participated in some of the classes and excursions set up for residents including a photography class, acupuncture, and a walk through the Margeny area to Crescent park. In the afternoons, we primarily helped the ground technician, Carol, with weeding and planting flowers, but also helped with other miscellaneous tasks including fixing the tires on a couple of the residents’ bikes and cleaning up common areas.

 

Emily Lerner and Carissa Bartkowiak take a break from gardening

The night before our last day of service, one of our group members got sick. Through discussion with Project Lazarus, we came to the conclusion that it would be best if we found somewhere else to work for our last day. We spent Friday morning contacting numerous non-profits in New Orleans and ultimately found two great organizations: HandsOn New Orleans and Green Light New Orleans. HandsOn New Orleans connects volunteers with service opportunities in their community. Green Light New Orleans empowers individuals to addresses climate change through use of energy efficient light bulbs, rain barrels, and vegetable gardens in their backyard.

Group members huddle in for a selfie with a resident after a game of UNO

On Friday afternoon, half of our group helped HandsOn New Orleans with demolition on a home owned by the executive director who could not afford to finish his repairs. His work is centered on providing volunteers to help other people, therefore it was rewarding to serve as volunteers to return the favor. The other half of our group split their time between painting rain barrels and gardening at the Green Light community garden.

Megan McKenzie paints a rain barrel for Green Light New Orleans

Out of all the BLI habits, the ones we used the most were ‘Pause and Reflect’, and ‘Expect Challenges’. ‘Pause and Reflect’ was a central habit of our trip given that reflection is one of the essential aspects of a successful alternative spring break trip. Every night after dinner we sat down, discussed our highs/lows of the day and reflected on service and our social identities. Specifically, we had discussions about what motivates our service, how our definition of service has changed or stayed the same, and how, if so, our awareness of different social identities has changed throughout this experience. On our final night, all ASB members wrote a letter to themselves about their experiences on the trip, which we will be meeting to reflect on again in the coming month.

Justin Pawloski, Lauren Weinberg, Brennan Metzler, Tyler Adams, Tosin Adeyemi, Zach Hoisington, and HandsOn New Orleans Director Chris Cameron smile after a long day of demolition

‘Expect Challenges’ was a habit that we wish we had contemplated a little bit more before the trip, but was also a habit that we definitely appreciated and understood more during our last day of service. It was challenging trying to find new organizations to volunteer with last-minute on Friday, but searching through all of the non-profit organizations in New Orleans also opened our eyes to all of the incredible service going on there. Our experience serving at Project Lazarus and at two other amazing non-profits instilled an appreciation for service that many of us will reflect on and carry with us for years to come.

 

By: Tosin Adeyemi, Emily Lerner, and Lauren Weinberg

The Community Coalition — Ann Arbor, Michigan

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As the community coalition, our mission was to create genuine, positive connections among our peers at the University . We planned to do this by bringing students together for small, informal gatherings that would allow them to connect with one another through intentional dialogue. So that’s what we did: we hosted an event where we ate yummy foods, played games, and talked about things that really matter to us. We booked a room, ordered food, wrote up a game plan, and each brought our own energy to the space, all as a way of helping and encouraging students to engage with one another in an authentic way.

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However, even though we started out with a common goal (to advocate for diversity and inclusion at the university), we each had different visions for approaching the common goal. Initially, a few members of our team believed it would be better to invite a larger group of students in order to bring awareness. However, after a long conversation about our desired impact, we decided to have a much smaller event where we could ensure that each person involved had an opportunity to actively communicate and share their experiences here at the university.

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Additionally, many members of our group were nervous that our event would be misinterpreted or forgotten about in the wake of the election. However, the event itself went better than any of us expected, and everyone seemed to be comfortable sharing, listening, and learning from one another. One our favorite pieces of feedback from the event was: “I felt like I was in a position of learning, which seldom happens to me anymore.” We were beyond excited to see real connections forming and people learning from each other in such an intentional space.

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Although this was merely the first step, in the future, we hope to create even more opportunities for intentional dialogue between students at the university as a means to build a more connected campus and world.

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