The following is a guest blog by intern Mark Peiffer, who just concluded a three-month internship with Camp Restore.
“There it is! New Orleans in under 100 miles!” I exclaimed excitedly as I sped down I-59 towards the Mississippi River Delta. I had left the familiar hilly suburbs of Northern Virginia for a deltaic landscape dominated by canals and muggy bayous. I would call the Crescent City home as I completed my internship with Camp Restore. What would unfold over the next three months will leave a distinct mark on my life.
Camp Restore is an ecumenical, Christian nonprofit organization committed to restoring faith, home and community in the city of New Orleans. Established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they have been a healing presence in a city still fighting to rebuild itself. Every year, thousands of volunteers are housed and fed onsite and then mobilized to many construction sites and community projects throughout the city. Camp Restore’s partnership with over 80 other nonprofits that share the same goal of restoring New Orleans attests to their grassroots nature. The amount of work accomplished under the Camp Restore banner is even more amazing considering the small staff they keep. It didn’t take me long to conclude that Camp Restore is an efficiently-run, highly-organized nonprofit staffed by individuals that know what they’re doing and are good at getting it done!
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as an intern. I knew I wanted to challenge myself and have new experiences as I served others. This I did, but it wasn’t always as I had envisioned it. There were highs, like the adrenaline rush that comes with demolishing an interior wall with a sledgehammer, and there were lows, like spending a day clearing a blighted lot only to look down the street and see five more just like it. Some of the best moments came when I knew my at times seemingly mundane work was paying off. Like the time when a volunteer on his fourth alternative break trip to New Orleans told me he had never seen the volunteer center more clean, or the moment vividly etched in my memory of a child riding his bicycle on the stretch of sidewalk I had just cleared of debris and weeds. ‘When was the last time that sidewalk was used?’ I thought.
Though the experiences were many and memorable, what left a deeper impression on me were the people I met along the way. The volunteers that came under Camp Restore’s roof week in and week out were selfless in their service and desire to invest in a city that they otherwise may have no further connection. A few individuals had been down to serve the people of New Orleans over 15 times! Then there were the locals – Terrence from the ARC bead recycling center, Blaise with the Wetlands Tree Foundation and Maria and Glenn from the local Catholic parish to name a few – all these individuals were proud to call themselves New Orleanians. Their level of joy and gratitude despite all they have been through humbled me greatly. I hope that the friendships I made during my internship will extend well into the future.
Even though I am moving on to life’s next adventure, I won’t forget the experiences I’ve had, the life lessons I’ve learned and the beautiful people I’ve met. I will miss the unique blend of cultures, the bold food, sights, sounds and wonderful quirks the Crescent City has to offer. The people of one of America’s most historic port cities are determined to rebuild. New Orleans has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina hit nearly eight years ago, yet there is still so much to be done! So what are you waiting for? Jump in the car or hop on a flight and come be a part of the ongoing rebuilding happening in New Orleans! Take it from the intern: Y’all won’t be disappointed!