Celebrating Through Community Service

For Marrero resident Ashley Hebert’s 16th birthday, she chose a very different kind of celebration. Though her parents surprised her with a party afterward, she spent most of her day working on a Habitat work site. That first year, she convinced her family and friends to spend a day on site with her, and when it was all over, she was almost too tired to celebrate.

“Everything was so good for me, I thought I should give back,” she said. According to her mother, she has always been concerned for others.

“She has a very big heart. A very, very big heart. I say that to everybody. She’ll do anything for anybody,” her mother Dawn said, noting that her interest in community service started when she was younger. It came as no surprise when Ashley decided to forgo the usual parties and instead focused on community service. Even when she was younger, she showed compassion, and when she went to fulfill her community service requirements in high school, she decided to choose a different sort of service project from her friends.

“I wanted to earn my hours. I didn’t just want someone to sign a sheet of paper,” she said, noting that the hard work made the experience even more rewarding.

Since then, it has become a tradition for her to volunteer for her birthday. In the last four years, she has volunteered three times as part of her annual celebration. One year, she opted to sky dive instead. The experience was thrilling, but the next year, she came back to the construction site.

“They’re different kinds of fun. Here, it’s for other people, so it almost feels better,” she said, before joking that she and her friends wanted to return just to see the door they built in use.

During a previous year, she and her friends met the homeowner of the house they were working on as they put up the chain link fence in the backyard. The process of unraveling the fence proved to be especially hard work, and the chance to meet the homeowner (and help them move a little furniture in) brightened their day. “The little kids were so happy to see us there.”

Though she had helped her father putting up siding before, working with NOAHH has been her first real exposure to construction work. She has helped with foundation work and fencing, and this year, she and her friends helped build exterior walls on a home in the St. Roch neighborhood. Despite a little rain, she says, this year was her favorite. Along with the hard work in the mud, she appreciates the surprise of finding out what new tasks a day at the build site will entail, and learning new tricks of the trade.

She left for the University of Southern Mississippi last year (where her interest in service brought her to the Alpha Delta Pi sorority), but she still came back to New Orleans to volunteer this year. She says she plans to continue the tradition, and she has spread her passion to others. Her family has long supported her–her father joined her twice and her mother once before–and her friends have been out with her several times, either to fulfill their own community service hours for school or because they enjoyed it with her in previous years.

“Don’t be afraid of it. For lack of a better term, man up and do it. It will make you feel warm and fuzzy at the end of the day.”