St. Martin’s Episcopal Attack the Block

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Over 80 students and faculty from St. Martin’s Episcopal School arrived in the Lower Ninth Ward on Monday, March 14, for 2016’s first Attack the Block event. Every year, NOAHH volunteers engage in neighborhood cleanup and community activities in areas where our affiliate builds. The students at St. Martin’s have been studying the history, economy, and importance of the Lower Ninth Ward, but for some, this was their first time actually visiting it.

“I hope it makes them aware of this part of the city,” said Charles Ramos, a Latin teacher in the Upper School and one of the group advisers. “It’s such an important part of New Orleans, but it is a part of the city which I know they’re not familiar with. I hope it makes them understand how important the area is, and also appreciate what a struggle it has been for this area to come back.”

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Along with NOAHH, the students partnered with Sankofa, Backyard Gardeners Network, and Lower 9th Ward Living Museum. Ramos, who had volunteered with NOAHH through St. Martin’s even before Hurricane Katrina, led a group of students at the Guerrilla Garden, part of the Backyard Gardeners Network. His students had not only been studying the Lower Ninth, but also the impact of urban gardening, and the volunteer day was their chance to put what they learned to use.

Also working with Sankofa were volunteers from CSA┬áNew Tech High School in Columbus, Indiana. The high school has an alternative spring break program available for all physics and engineering students that brings them each year to New Orleans. Along with volunteering around the city, they helped Sankofa by clearing a nature trail for visitors, working alongside the students from St. Martin’s, who also cleared trash from nearby streets. By the end of the day, several large dumpster’s worth of trash and brush had been cleared.

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“My son, this is his third year, and he loves it so much, because he realizes that his helping people is making a difference,” said Sarah Hess, one of the parent supervisors from Indiana. “It’s a great thing that people here open their arms to everybody to help. People come to help them, and it’s great. It creates a sense of community.”

Other students from St. Martin’s helped at the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. The museum’s purpose is to preserve and tell the history of the Lower Ninth through the words of those who call it home by collecting oral histories and working with the local community. The students helped organize the Rebirth and Remembrance Room, where visitors have left messages; put a finish on the mural; and cleaned up some of the nearby streets.

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Stephanie Dragoon helps run the museum. She joined five years ago, working through her professors at Occidental College in Portland, Oregon. Though a transplant to the city, she is aware of the importance of advocating for the Lower Ninth and for making sure the voices of those who have lived there for generations are still heard.

“It’s incredibly meaningful to have students from New Orleans,” she said. “We have a lot of volunteers from other places coming in, and I think it’s especially meaningful to have folks who are from down here coming to a part of the city they might never have come to before. They took the time to learn about this place before they came down, and I think that’s awesome. It shows a commonality and a unity between different parts of the city.”