Eleven year old Izzie Alley, who is from suburban New York, is looking around the converted garage where the Strauss Family is living while their house is being rebuilt in New Orleans. “Smaller than your bedroom,” Margie Alley points out. The space contains a bathroom, fridge, computer, clothes, microwave.
The Alleys, along with Margie’s parents Ted and Judy Goldsmith, have been working on the Strauss home, moving bricks in the back yard, carrying debris out of the house. They took the kids out of school for a few days for this project. “We felt like it would be a good thing to do,” she explained, adding that they never have done anything like this before.
“You don’t need t leave the country to help,” added Judy Goldsmith (the family is working with Beacon of Hope www.lakewoodbeacon.org). “It is one thing to read about it on TV and other to see it and meet the people you are helping.” “You don’t need t leave the country to help,” added Judy Goldsmith (the family is working with Beacon of Hope www.lakewoodbeacon.org). “It is one thing to read about it on TV and other to see it and meet the people you are helping.”
“You feel good about what you are doing,” says Izzie. Her 14 year-old brother Max agrees. The two of course didn’t mind missing a couple of days of school either.
The family paid for their own flights and is staying in a hotel, trying to squeeze in some tourist sites. Volunteering is very personal here — Denise Strauss explained how her middle class family had to leave New Orleans with one change of clothes, not to return for a year. She is exceedingly grateful for the help — and for the chance to tell her story to empathetic listeners. “I like to see families bond while they work together and they get to see the human element in all this,” she explains.
Says Judy Goldsmith, a florist: “We know stress, but not this kind of stress. This puts everything in perspective.”
On another street in the neighborhood, a group of parents and kids from an Indian tribe in Lillooet, British Columbia, about five hours north of Vancouver, have raised the money so they can help. They are building a community garden. Some of the teens had never been on an airplane. People from New Orleans had come to help their summer camp years ago, so the group wanted to help them, said their pastor Mark Smith, who had grown up in New Orleans and connected with his church here.
“It’s good for them to see that they can help even if they are kids,” said Leona Joseph, a book keeper who was with her 15 year-old daughter as well as her sister and other family members.
Much of the volunteer effort here has been arranged church to church, synagogue to synagogue, locals say. Have your church or synagogue make a connection with one in New Orleans. “This really teaches kids how to work hard and it’s good for them to experience helping people,” says Leona Joseph, adding that they are learning to think of other people rather than just themselves.
All around the lower Ninth Ward and the Lakeview neighborhood are groups of college students, high school church groups and a family here and there working diligently –cleaning yards, carrying trash from broken down houses, painting, and planting gardens. Everywhere they work, locals are appreciative of their efforts and willing to share their stories. In fact, they are delighted to have someone willing to listen. “You don’t get this sense of accomplishment on another kind of vacation,” offers Judy Goldsmith.