It’s always around this time of year that I wonder how anyone could not want to live in New Orleans. There are festivals galore, the energy of Mardi Gras is still in the air, the crawfish boils are abundant and Abita Strawberry beer is available. What more could a person want?
Jazz Fest weekends are always something to look forward to. Time sneaks up on you and before you know it, it’s Fest time! For me, that includes getting an email from my friend, Dave, who is the Director of Advancement at Café Reconcile. It goes something like this… “Dear Friends, If you volunteer for 4 hours at the Strawberry Lemonade stand at Jazz Fest this year, you’ll get to spend the rest of the afternoon at the Fest for free!” I review the Jazz Fest cubes (schedule), figure out what artists I want to make sure I see and send a response to Dave saying, “Sign me up!”
A little bit of history—Café Reconcile is a restaurant in one of New Orleans most at-risk communities, Central City. The staff at Café Reconcile provides life skills and job training to students ages 16 to 22 years old. Every day the students face challenges from extreme poverty and homelessness to violence. They are given the opportunity to work and learn in the kitchen as well as wait tables in the restaurant and also take classes that teach life and work skills. Not only is it an incredible organization for the community, they serve an awesome lunch!
This year, I volunteered at the Strawberry Lemonade stand on the second Saturday. It was hot, sunny, busy, and sticky but so rewarding. We were able to work alongside a young guy who was still in high school. He had just found out that he would be eligible to receive a $7,000 scholarship to any school of his choice. He was, to say the least, thrilled. It was like you could visibly see the world at his fingertips. He was given an opportunity that many in his neighborhood had never been given. He was going to carpe the diem. Hearing his story and excitement made the laborious work, the sweat, the stickiness, the sore muscles post-Fest all worth it.
It’s incredible that I work with volunteers every day. I hear their stories, see their tears of happiness, and encourage them to talk to residents and hear their story but in reality, I can easily miss out on the joy volunteering brings. This weekend, while I did get to see some incredible music and help a wonderful organization, I got to feel that feeling– the feeling of hope and happiness and excitement. So now, while the festivals are ending, the heat of summer is coming and the humidity is laying its blanket on the city, I will remember why I live here and love it here—because volunteers are making a difference every day and I am privileged and humbled to be a part of that incredible force.