Rebuilding homes, and building friendships, in New Orleans

dya_neworleansBy Sister Gina Fleming, OP

During the week of January 9–14, four young people, who are members of the newly formed Dominican Young Adults Chapter in Puerto Rico, traveled to New Orleans to participate in a rebuilding project. The build is sponsored by the St. Bernard Project which is still very involved in rebuilding the homes of New Orleans residents who were displaced due to Katrina.

After arriving at the airport, we quickly rented a car and were on our way to the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, where we would stay for the week.

The sisters were wonderfully welcoming, and the young people felt at home very quickly. After getting ourselves situated, we were ready for a good night’s sleep and prepared for our work in the morning. After going to our 7 a.m. orientation at the St. Bernard Project’s main office, we were off to our work site. Unfortunately, this site was almost completed and really didn’t need our help, so the next day we began “real” work at a new site.

Lyamar Rodriguez, Stephanie Stoddard, Ashley Irizzary and Gilysa Machado with the homeowner

Lyamar Rodriguez, Stephanie Stoddard, Ashley Irizzary and Gilysa Machado with the homeowner

The students had the opportunity to engage in all types of work at the new site. They cleaned, mudded, sanded, primed, and also got a chance to use the drills and such! There was much to do! The group we worked with was from the New Jersey area (talk about a small world). The young people all hit it off right away and the work, though exhausting at times, was done in a wonderful spirit of laughter and fun.

On one of the days, we had the opportunity to meet the woman who owned the home we were working on. With tears in her eyes, she spoke of her gratitude to these young volunteers. She told them she would pray for them and ask God to bless them for their hard work and for helping to make her dream of finally “coming home” a reality.

During their time in New Orleans the young people also had the opportunity to visit the French Quarter, see the area where Brad Pitt’s foundation is building new homes, and drive around the Ninth Ward, where much of the devastation of Katrina is still very visible.

Soon it was time to say goodbye. With continued assurances that they will always keep the sisters in their prayers and thoughts, the young people said farewell to their new friends.

Sister Gina Fleming, OP, is director of Dominican Young Adults USA and the Dominican College Preaching Conference.

Reflections from the Dominican Young Adults
on their experience in New Orleans

“This experience has helped me realize that the best gift we can give anyone is a mere hand, and with that hand be able to bring a smile full of happiness upon their faces. Just by offering assistance in any way possible, as we Dominican preachers say, “preach through our actions.” Offering ourselves to participate in a project that helps bring hope to the people that were vastly hit by Hurricane Katrina, made me open my eyes and see that, yes it was AMAZING volunteering outside of Puerto Rico, but we have yet to lend our neighbors a helping hand. So, from this experience I shall take back the will and determination that these volunteers gave in contributing to a project that changes the victims lives as well as their own.”
—Ashley Irizarry, DYA member and Dominican High School Preaching Conference participant

“It’s safe to say this experience most definitely changed me and my perspective. I am currently sitting in front of my laptop thinking, I can do more, not only in New Orleans but in Puerto Rico as well. I can help make a difference. I can… I want to help others regain their homes, their safety, their love, and their hope. I want to remind them that there are still good people and good things in this world. I want to remind them that love can surpass anything, I want to remind them that faith is mighty. I want to tell them that people care, that, somebody remembers them and will try and help them. I plan on making a presentation and showing it to my school. They have to know what’s going on. They not only have to listen and see the devastation, but acknowledge it. I want to shout at them “this is real and it is happening right now, and we all have the power to do something about it, anything.”

— Stephanie Stoddard, DYA member and Dominican High School Preaching Conference participant