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North Shore YMCA teens volunteer in New Orleans

Posted by Susannah Blair  May 9, 2012 11:00 AM

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The following was submitted by North Shore YMCA:

April vacation is usually a time for teens to take one last break from school before finals. But a group of 50 young adults from across the North Shore, voluntarily gave up their spring break this year to travel to New Orleans, LA where they helped rebuild homes and wildlife habitats that were destroyed in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While they thought it would a fun way to spend time with friends and give back to that community, each left profoundly changed by this meaningful week of service.

This was the third year Cape Ann YMCA teens took this service learning trip to the bayou, and for the first time, teens from the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA, Salem YMCA and Greater Beverly YMCA joined their peers as the YMCA of the North Shore grows its outreach to middle and high school age students.

“This was a great opportunity to work with my fellow Teen Directors from Salem, Cape Ann and Lynch/van Otterloo,” said Eric Campbell, Teen Director at the Greater Beverly YMCA, who took his first group this year. “Nikki Klink and Rick Doucette lead this trip for the past two years and were integral in growing this program so that more kids from all our communities could come together and have this meaningful experience.”

The planning and organization for the trip took more than a year, but it all paid off for these students, who ranged in age from 14-18 years old. The teens brainstormed and fundraised, hosting events such as dinners at local restaurants and “special days” at their schools. 

“I think one of the greatest values of the trip is having the teens learn to write letters, ask for donations, and take part in fundraisers. These are great life skills,” said Nikki Klink, Teen Director at the Cape Ann YMCA’s Ben Beyea Youth & Teen Center in Rockport.

The group recalls the work as tough but well worth it. Teens and their chaperones worked on three separate homes during the week, installing drywall and baseboards, painting and tiling. One group also assisted in restoring the wetlands by planting trees and marsh grasses, which help insulate the area from natural disasters.

As the week came to a close, the students reflected on what they had learned from their hard work. While each could add some new construction skills to that list, the majority of students said they had gained a new appreciation for what they have in life and learned the importance of getting outside their comfort zones from time to time. 

It was the little moments of the trip that made the biggest impression on these teens. One example was that of Ms. Tressa, the homeowner of one of the properties they worked on. She was living in a trailer in her side yard during the reconstruction of her home and worked side by side with the teens.  They saw her will to stay positive and press on, even in the toughest of times.  “It put everything in perspective for them,” Campbell said.

“For me, the trip to New Orleans was humbling and shocking,” said Leyah Williams of Beverly. “The amount of work we completed on on Ms. Tressa's home in one day amazed me. It made me wonder how long it really would take for her and her family to get back into her home without volunteers like the Teen Leaders. The experience was eye opening.”

Reflection after reflection, the students expressed gratitude for their own circumstances. They shared the initial fears of being an outsider that they quickly overcame because their peers were open and welcoming. Each and every one wrote that this was a life changing experience they will never forget.

“I can't imagine the emotional journey these people have gone through,” said Susie Likins of Marblehead. “I loved every second of working on the houses and I can't wait for the family to finally see it.  This has been such an amazing experience and it has really opened my eyes to a world I didn't know much about.”

“I think the teens are able to appreciate what they have in their lives, even if it may not be much at all,” said Campbell. “To hear the stories of contractor fraud, families losing thousands of dollars, families being separated for years, terrible health issues from the stress of this hurricane… it all made them very thankful. I also think they took full advantage of the chance to meet teens form other towns.  Not only was trip meant as a service learning and cultural experience, but it also helped build new communities of friends within our Ys. They’re already planning for next year’s trip.”

The Y is dedicated to helping grow and inspire the next generation of leaders by engaging young adults in service projects that help create a better future for our community. The yearly service learning trip to New Orleans is just one of the ways we do that. With teen programs now up and running in all six of our North Shore locations, the hope to is continue to expand this trip, welcoming more than 100 students next year from additional communities across the North Shore. 

The following students from the North Shore took part in the 2012 New Orleans Trip:

Beverly: Haley Alwardi, Aidan Blake, Robert LeBel, James LeBel, Sarah McGilloway, Samantha Putur and Leyah Williams.

Marblehead: Mikayla Bean, Nathaniel Berenson, Nicholas Carr, Laura Johnson Susie Likins, Dylan Mace, Kyle Maulden, Emily Peugh, William Portnof, Hannah Soloman, Misa Takata and Jack Weinstein

Salem: Audrey Delgago, Nathan Dragon, Armando Lezama, William Parr, Morgan Rogers, Shannon Tucker and Hannah Walke

Rockport: Brian Amero, Courtney Ashwell, Katharine Boucher, Tyler Hurst, Joey O'Brien, Zoe O'Leary, Emma Ottenheimer, Jenny Sonia, Ali Steer and Rina Takahashi

Gloucester: Shannon Gallagher, Alex Jones, Nick Lucido, Jared Marshall, Emily Ohrtman, Kevin Redmond, Evan Shay, Steve Verga, Zach White, Andrew Widtfeldt, Brittany Williams, Nikki Williamson

Chaparones: Rick Doucette, Nikki Klink, Matthew Marin, Sue King, Austin Sousa, Kira Oliver, Ellen Johnson, Jennah Alwardi, Eric Campbell, Katherine Drew, Adam Rodgers, Kathryn Rodgers, Graeme Marcoux and Catherine Marcoux

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