Volunteer Profile: Washington International School

“Home is a place where, no matter what happens during the day, I know whats going to happen, where I can feel like I’m safe. Not just physically safe, because it’s more than that. To see my parents and my family and not have to deal with things that I don’t necessarily want to. So I guess [home is] a safe place I can always rely on.” – Alexander, 10th grade student volunteer, Washington International School

The tenth graders at Washington International School have a full schedule for their annual school service trip. For the last few years, they’ve come to New Orleans to volunteer for a week with NOAHH, and when they’re done working on houses, they make a point of seeing the city. Cemetery tours, swamp tours, the French Quarter, jazz cruises, dining out… Their schedule is packed, but it allows them to see and experience things they

“We saw the alligators and everything, and we got to hold a baby alligator, a two year old. They taped the mouth shut while we were holding it. His name was Bruce,” said student volunteer Rebecca, laughing. “I was thinking about [the schedule], and it’s going to be pretty weird to <i>not</i> have everything planned out, because it’s just been kind of completely packed from 8:00 A.M to 9:30 P.M. So we’re all exhausted, but’s a good exhausted.”

The other new experience she and her classmates had was, of course, volunteering on the build site. For most of them, construction work was unfamiliar.

“Doing the wood floors was so hard,” she said. “It was the hardest job out of all of them. Especially yesterday because we didn’t really know what we were doing at first. But then we got into a rhythm, and things got a lot easier and really fun. By the end of it we were all like sweating because we didn’t realize we could open up the windows. We were in a room, sweating and putting it together, but it was really rewarding because you were able to see the progress happen, whereas when you painted you don’t really know what coat you’re on. With the pieces of wood you could actually see it happen,”

Though they all knew each other beforehand, working together brought them closer.

“Since our trip to New Orleans, I think our class has gotten a lot closer,” she said, “because we didn’t always talk to each other. Before everybody used to kind of just talk to our friends, but I’ve been like hanging out with people that I usually don’t see. It’s been fun because we’ve all developed new skills now, so you’re not just know for what class you’re in.”

On site, the students worked with Erica Moten, who would one day own the home they were working on. Working with her inspired the students and helped them better understand Habitat’s program, particularly sweat equity.

“We’ve been working in like different areas, but it’s really cool to be able to help her build her house,” said Rebecca. “Putting down the wood floors, if there was a gap in the floor, we’d completely pull it up. So much care and time is being put into making it perfect.”

“I thought it was a great way for people that don’t have the best economic situation to be able to afford nice homes,” said Alexander. “[Erica] wasn’t a Katrina victim, but there are people around here whose houses were destroyed . It’s a good way to be able to pay for their home without using a large amount of money.”