[StBernard] Editorial: Mission to New Orleans teaches key life lessons

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Feb 5 10:39:22 EST 2008

Editorial: Mission to New Orleans teaches key life lessons

The Traverse City Christian School students who spent nearly a week in
Chalmette, La., are awfully young to have seen what destruction and
heartbreak -- the continuing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- look like up

But they also had the chance to see firsthand what faith and hard work can

To hear them tell it, hope won out.

"It's really going to make a difference in my life," 16-year-old junior
Chantel Wisniewski said of the trip and the work the students did. "I will
know when I go home that I helped someone here."

Laura Snyder, a 17-year-old senior who helped put up drywall in a woman's
house, felt a personal connection from her labors. "She's going to have a
house," she said about the homeowner. "She'll be able to be warm because we
put in insulation."

For the second time in less than two years students, parents and
administrators from Traverse City Christian climbed aboard buses and drove
nonstop the 1,200 miles or so to the Gulf Coast. More specifically, they
went to Chalmette, a New Orleans suburb in St. Bernard Parish that was
almost completely submerged after the storm. St. Bernard Parish had a
population of 67,000 before Katrina; it's about 25,000 now.

The students spent five days putting up drywall, raking yards, painting and
hammering -- whatever it took to help get the First Baptist Church of
Chalmette and some homeowners in nearby New Orleans back on their feet.
Before the students left, about 20 members of the 40-person First Baptist
congregation held the first services in the building since Katrina. Before
the storm, the church claimed a membership of about 150.

The students' work was a small part of a larger effort, a massive outpouring
of aid from private citizens around the country, most of them school or
church groups. First Baptist administrative assistant Carol Saling said an
amazing 2,500 volunteers from 235 church or school groups from 31 states had
worked on the church just last year. They came from a range of religious
denominations, she said.

As destructive as Katrina was -- and as pathetic as the federal response to
the disaster was -- many stories that have come out of New Orleans since
then have been an inspiration to the nation. Now, they include the
experiences of a few dozen young people from northern Michigan who answered
the call for help.

Their work and sacrifice is a tribute to them and their school, but also
taught important lessons that will resonate for years to come.

"It's the kind of thing you never forget," said Kate Johnson, 17, a senior.
"You tell other people about it, you tell them about your experiences and
you hope they'll be inspired to do it, too."

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