Last week, I wrote about my awesome spring break experience in New Orleans and how it was a great way to mix fun with community service. This week I thought that it would be beneficial to give you some reasons why this is a great idea for you, your family, or for your group of friends. Although at the time I was thinking about the boost this experience would give to my resume, when it was all said and done, I gained so much more than another line on my resume.
Here are three reasons why I continue to look for opportunities for alternative-community service focused vacations and why you should too!
I can’t remember exactly how much I spent on my trip to New Orleans. I can tell you, however, almost to the exact cent how much I spent on each of my out-of-country romps. I enjoyed both the same, and I gained worthwhile experiences from each one. But I must admit that when you don’t have to worry about saving thousands of dollars for a vacation, it makes the process that much easier. Most importantly, the opportunity to take part in the experience increases greatly.
Although the exact price of my week in New Orleans escapes me, I definitely remember it being less than $200. The price of the trip included round trip transportation, lodging accommodations, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day that we were there. Now, of course, with any cost efficient vacation there are corners that have to be cut. For instance, instead of jumping on a plane that probably would’ve had us in New Orleans within a few hours, we took two vans full of students and luggage on, what I believe, was an 18-hour drive. I enjoy road trips, so this was not a problem for me. And we, of course, did not have reservations at the local Hilton. We brought our sleeping bags and stayed on the second floor of a rehabbed church that had been hit by Katrina. Thankfully, the church’s living area was still operational. It included several rooms with bunk beds, separate male and female bathrooms with showers, and a full kitchen. Our food situation was even less luxurious.
For breakfast, the kind folks at Panera Bread provided us with a trash bag full of bagels and muffins – I promise that it was better than it sounds. (Tip: If you are ever in need of breakfast items for a community service or non-profit event, Panera Bread has a great program in which they give out free bagels, muffins, etc. leftover from the day.) Every day we had our choice of different types of carb-filled items. I think that was when I fell in love with the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel – it is everything! For lunch and dinner, the group used the pooled money from each participant’s entry fee to go grocery shopping for these meals. Lunch options included a peanut butter/jelly sandwich or a turkey sandwich (ham was too rich for our pockets), a bag of chips, a pack of cookies, a piece of fruit, and a bottle of water. In the evenings, students who had a knack for cooking took the responsibility of cooking our dinners. We had hamburgers, taco salad, and other things that I thankfully didn’t get sick from. At the end of the week, we had enough money leftover to treat ourselves to a dinner out on the town.
The only money each person had to “worry” about, if you want to call it that, was for our evenings out in the city. Although we had to forgo a number of luxuries, I always felt safe and comfortable.
Experience Yourself in a New Way
Before stepping foot in New Orleans, I had never sanded a wall. I had spackled and painted during around-the-house projects, but sanding is a totally different beast. If you get lazy and don’t sufficiently sand, getting the wall close to smooth as possible, there will be no way of hiding it. One glaze of paint over a “lazy moment” and boom your laziness, as shown from the random bump on or indent in the wall, is on full display.
In the house that our group was rehabbing, I was put or I put myself (I can’t recall) on spackle, sand, and paint duty. It was a tiny room, and I had it almost to myself. I spackled every little dent, crack, and hole I saw. When it came time for sanding, I went at it like the spackled-over imperfections were a villain, and I was there to completely rid the wall of it. My arm ached. My hands, clothing, and the scarf that covered my hair were covered with sanding debris at the end of each day. When it was time to put that paint on the wall, I was intent on it being perfectly smooth. I could have easily lazed out. There was no one watching my every move, and there was certainly not anyone checking to make sure I did my duty sufficiently. It was just me and my pride for doing the best that I knew to do. It was great seeing the “get it done, get dirty Nicole” in action. I hadn’t met her before, but now that I know she’s there I can call on her anytime I need to get down and dirty — for a good cause, of course.
Intimate View of the City
There are a number of top places, landmarks, and things to see that people flock to New Orleans to experience each year. This is great, but unless a concerted effort to go beyond the “tourist traps” is made, visitors will miss out on the gems that really make the city special to the people who live there. This is true for anywhere you go. Thankfully, on our trip, and probably on most service oriented vacations, we had no other option than to be thrown head first into “homegrown” New Orleans. While I enjoyed the French Quarter (kind of) and Café du Mond (greatly), it was also great to see how people lived and functioned outside of the bright lights of the tourist areas. We saw the good, the bad, and the scary. We shopped where the locals shopped, worked where and how they worked, and lived where they lived. Honestly, I think that I would’ve felt slightly cheated if we had stayed at one of the ritzy, even one of the not-so ritzy hotels in the French Quarter.
There are many other reasons why I recommend planning an alternative, service oriented vacation (i.e. focus on team work, meeting other people, etc.) for yourself, family, or group of friends. Whatever the reason, I can promise that the experience will leave you with a different, more intimate view of the city you visited and the people you came into contact with. If you’ve already done one or many, please share some tips you took away from your experience.