The best kind of volunteer work is the kind where you venture out past your local area and volunteer in a different state or even foreign country. You not only are on a vacation, but also are able to give back to the place you’re visiting and meet the local people that reside there.
My experience with Habitat for Humanity (HFH) in the New Orleans, Louisiana, area was fulfilling and enjoyable. My group chose a hotel near The French Quarter and, after perusing the HFH website, I decided to sign up to assist in The Musicians Village Project.
The Musician’s Village was to consist of 72 single-family, Habitat-constructed homes for displaced New Orleans musicians and other Habitat partner families as a result of Katrina. Its centerpiece will be the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, dedicated to the education and development of homeowners and others who will live nearby. Each completed house was to be painted in bright colors to reflect the vividness of the town of New Orleans. All the houses in the village were on stilts, which elevated them more than three feet off the ground to prepare for any future flooding. They also had plans for the village center to raise money to provide instruments for the residents.
The four day trip was booked and we spent two of them volunteering. We arrived at The Musician’s Village site and found other people from around the country volunteering. We were signed up for light interior housework our first day and traded jobs throughout the day of painting, plastering and general cleaning. We assisted in the building of the stairs and porch: nailing and sanding.
That night we were able to relax and go out into the French Quarter for dinner and drinks after our exhausting day of work. Seeing the Mississippi River for the first time in the same night as having some authentic southern New Orleans grits, gumbo and jambalaya added to the memories. We then rounded out the night at the famous Preservation Hall for some local jazz and drinks.
Our next day consisted of nailing hurricane panels to the roof and side of a house. One of my friends put siding on the home, the other installed insulation in the bathroom, while I was left to power-saw pieces of wood to fit the inside of the home for further insulation.
We returned to the jazz Hall for a drink or two that afternoon and decided to walk around the rest of the night, visiting the local shops that were still open, riding on the local trolley and even drinking some dollar beers and shots on Bourbon Street.
Our last full day was luckily the most beautiful. Parades happening throughout the day included floats made by local high schools to prepare for Mardi Gras, happening two weeks from when we were visiting.
I highly recommend this mix of a great vacation with volunteer work to anyone. I found that no matter how little or much time you volunteer, any time can make a big difference. You also don’t have to have any past experience with construction, even though it doesn’t hurt and they even recommend you bring your own tools if you do. And don’t forget, all your vacation expenses are tax deductible because of your volunteer work, a little perk with a great vacation.
Visit www.habitat-nola.org for specific information on volunteering in New Orleans. You can visit their construction calendar and see what specific projects may interest you. For more information on The Musician’s Village, you can visit http://habitat-nola.org/about/musicians_village.