TRAVELTEER: Where Travel Meets Volunteering

1 Writing this post, I cannot continue without first admitting that I have fallen deeply in love with New Orleans. What started out with an uneasy, restless feeling towards the city due to my misguided expectations of Bourbon Street, quickly metamorphosed into a truly enlightening experience, diving into the NOLA culture. As my week continued, I started off Monday volunteering with Ronald McDonald House; an organization I had previously visited in Richmond and was looking forward to volunteering with their New Orleans house. When I arrived I was greeted with an awesome tour of the facility, which houses 15 families who have children in need of expert medical attention from the local hospital. Throughout the day, working with Xiomara, one of the staff members, I was able to utilize some new found cleaning skills to prepare three rooms for families that would be arriving in the near future.
After saying our goodbyes (and asking the staff to never tell my parents I actually know how to clean for fear they will put me to work), I headed out to the French Quarters again for round two. I decided to venture back into the touristy area with more reasonable expectations and luckily a naturally brighter day. I checked out the French Market, an area filled with local vendors selling arts, crafts, and local food. Taking a recommendation from a fellow non-profit starter, Zach Bonner of Little Red Wagon Foundation, I made a stop at Cafe Du Monde for beignets and cafe con leche (It’s German for those not sophisticated). Both were delicious, especially while soaking in a lovely view of Jackson Square and the local commotion. I soon departed to meet up with my temporary roommate, Erin, in a really cool area called the Bywater. Dining at a local BBQ joint called, well, The Joint, we ordered pulled pork sandwich, a side of slaw, and fresh sweet tea – all of which were amazing. Soon I headed to Frenchman St., the go-to place for the quality jazz music New Orleans is known for. Starting at The Spotted Cat Music Club- a few locals and I soaked in a fantastic ensemble of brass and bass that truly set the tone for the night. Stopping in and out of the venues lining Frenchman Street, one of the highlights was seeing a band at The Marigny Brasserie and Bar rock a drum solo using pots, pans, and mason jars only to have the drummer accidentally shatter the glass to an overwhelming cheer! So much skill…so much passion – the Jazz of New Orleans was alive.

2 The next morning I set out to volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank, this time in their food packaging department. As I have learned on my Travelteer journey, food banks are in constant need of volunteers and more volunteers mean more people fed. While working with an excellent team, we managed to fill and package 1600 trays for after school meals for children. After getting to know the local volunteers I soon departed for the daunting swamps of the New Orleans Bayou…DUN DUN DUN… Arriving at Jean Lafitte National Park, feeling as if I had just walked into Narnia, I started down a small wooden path surrounded by low hanging moss and swamps on either side. Near the end of the trail, I stopped at an overlook where I saw an amazing sight of a momma alligator guarding its newborn hatchlings playing in the marsh.

3 As the sun set, I ventured back into the city to try and catch an impromptu show by Hannibal Burress at The Maple Leaf Bar. When I arrived, I was sad to find that they didn’t sell tickets at the door, so I headed back to the car to see where else the night may take me. As I walked, I was approached by a man who must have been around 6’ 20’’, who said, “I have a really strange question, but would you like to join my friends and I for dinner, on us?” Much to my parent’s dismay, all of my previous training on “STRANGER DANGER” went out the window and I agreed. What could have played out as a B-rated horror film, soon turned into a uproarious night at a fantastic restaurant called Jacque IMO. It turned out that these gents were in town for business and their 5th friend on the reservation decided to ditch them for a Train concert. I know what you are thinking – Why the heck wasn’t I jamming out to “Hey Soul Sister” with this guy! But unfortunately, the concert was just for the 30+ crowd from the tech convention. Shucks! As the night continued, I had a blast getting to know these guys, sharing laughs and a few stories (and certainly creating a new one). As we headed our separate ways, I told them I would never forget this moment as it was our first non-profit donation for Travelteer in the form of Alligator/Shrimp Cheesecake and Crawfish Gumbo. I ensured them it was probably tax-deductible on their part (although typing it out I think they might want to double check that.)

4 The next morning I headed out to volunteer with Rebuilding Together, an organization I had previously volunteered within Fort Lauderdale. Arriving at the site, I was quickly greeted by the friendly neighborhood peacock, Petey. This little guy somehow escaped the zoo during Hurricane Katrina and has been living in a 10-block radius for all these years. Instead of contacting the zoo, they neighbors have decided to adopt him. He now lives off of cat food and has a fondness for his own reflections in car bumpers. Meeting some other people involved in voluntourism from Washington, we got to work fixing up a house for a local in need. I got started taking out broken windowpanes and installing new ones – a task which I have added to my growing list of “future awesome husband” skills. I also put down a coat of primer on the house, being told that my painting skills were a “STROKE of genius”. After a successful day, I bid farewell to all my new friends from Washington and assured them that I would reach out when Travelteer does the West Coast.

5 Heading home, I got wind of a crawfish boil happening on Bank St. and had to check it out! After an embarrassing attempt to eat a crawfish in front of the locals, I as taught the proper way by a young girl and soon enough became a pro. As the crawfish broil came to a close, I headed to a local sunset spot known as “The Fly”, which sits tucked along the Mississippi River, to appreciate one final New Orleans sunset. I was super psyched to catch a bit of the 33rd annual French Quarter Festival in the morning before Travelteer heads to Atlanta. I have never felt compelled to just stay in a city as much as I do New Orleans! Still as this week comes to an end, I know that saying goodbye is only temporary and I plan on revisiting not only explore this city even further but to continue to volunteer and give back to the community that has made New Orleans such a great and unique place. Thank you, New Orleans, for everything and I can’t wait to meet again and see what adventures will ensue. Now on to Atlanta!