"My first BonaResponds trip was one of the best experiences of my life, bar-none. I really did not know what to expect going in, mainly because I did not know many other people that were going. Also, I was a bit jealous of all my friends who were off to the Bahamas for Spring Break. I had made a commitment to go, though, and I was going to follow through.
The bus ride down was the first bonding experience between myself and my fellow Bonaventure students and community members. I met quite a few people I had not previously known, and by the end of that 22 hour trek, I was not ready to see two thirds of them leave to go to other sites.
It turned out that we were called upon to make a "detour" on recently ravaged Enterprise, Alabama, a small town in southern Alabama that had been rocked by a tornado. We literally walked house-to-house, walked into people's houses, and helped them clean out their bedrooms and such. In some houses, there was no roof, no windows, no doors, and this was a mere 2 days after the tornado hit.
It seemed so weird walking into people's bedrooms. In one house that was not damaged too badly, we removed t-shirts from a dresser. This really humanized the situation and made me realize for the first time that this was not just a disaster site, but someone's home-or what used to be someone's home.
At the end of the day, it made you realize how fortunate you were to never have to experience things like this. These days, people complain about everything from traffic to cold coffee-this was something that truly gave perspective to our lives.
Best of all, the people of Enterprise were so greatful to have us helping them. They were just flabbergasted that we would come all the way from New York State to help them, but we thought nothing of it. I explained to them that that is what the Bonaventure Franciscan spirit is all about- helping your brothers and sisters when they need it most.
From there we traveled to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where the trip took on an even greater meaning. While the devastation of the area was already 2 years old, it was still shoking to see how Katrina had wrecked the entire shoreline and neighborhoods and towns for miles. Concrete slabs stood in the place of houses. FEMA sight that really trailers were all over. One sight that really caught me and described the absolute need for help down in the Gulf Coast was when we were riding in the back of a pickup delivering shingles to a job site. As we drove down the street, one man was single-handedly peeling siding (one-by-one) off his house (that was for sale), with no help at all. When we passed the man again, he had tired out and was resting in a plastic chair. This described the Gulf Coast in a nutshell- so much damage, so much to be done, and so little people to help.
On the other hand, we met a man who had moved his residence to the Gulf Coast just to be come a full-time volunteer. He had quit his job, sold his bike shop, and along with the younger (and just as enthusiastic) volunteers, he really made a difference. The whole volunteer experience is really chipping away at a huge project, but at the end of the day, especially when you work on a house that someone is living in, it is nice to know that you made even a little difference.
On the last day of the trip, as we took a tour of New Orleans, when we drove into the city, our excited buss chocked full of volunteers saw the abandoned Ninth Ward, a totally barren and desolate area of the city. The place had been under water for months, and work hadn't even begun on the project. The bus grew quiet, as we saw just how much still must be done to revive the Gulf Coast. This summed up much of the area's situation- abandoned area, an afterthought, and a group of dedicated, caring, and enthusiastic volunteers who are willing and able to make a difference.
As we rode home from Mississippi, I couldn't believe the impact the trip had had on me. While we did help many people out, I felt that the experience benefited me in almost as many ways. I had gained a new family made up of great, fun-loving, and motivated friends. The experiences I gained on my first BonaResponds trip were amongst the best in my life, something that I will always cherish and always use as a reminder of what good can be pulled from what many have deemed a hopeless situation. It was, quite simply, the best Spring Break of my life."