Gardening, HIV Testing, & Drag Shows: Team NOLA’s MLK Day of Service

By Helene Kirschke-Schwartz on February 4, 2014 in AmeriCorps, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

A day ON not a day off- this was our motto going into our Martin Luthor King Day of Service. Since the beginning of time (well, since our service year started…so August), Team NOLA has hoped to collaborate with another local AmeriCorps team. Finally, we had our chance. City Year New Orleans planned a magnificent MLK Day of Service and asked the community to come together and volunteer for a day at Arthur Ashe Charter School . Honestly, going into it I expected it to be a small crowd. I mean, people fake sicknesses for a day off so why would they give up their free time to come do manual labor all morning? Boy, was I wrong. There must have been about 200 people who came to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Everyone was full of energy (I was once I got coffee) and so excited to get out there and make this school beautiful. It was pretty invigorating. All I could think about was how much this moment embodied what MLK Jr. preached his whole life- “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Rebecca and Jeremy waiting to receive our volunteer assignments!

Rebecca and Jeremy waiting to receive our volunteer assignments!

After chugging three cups of coffee, we made our way to meet our assignment leader. Our team was placed with the school’s garden teacher. We were told to clean up the “Rainbow Garden” by weeding, planting, and fertilizing. When we first walked over to the garden, I realized there was nothing rainbow about it. It looked like a scary forbidden forest you would see in a Disney movie. We started by cutting dead plants and weeding- and let me tell you, we had our work “cut” out for us. (Sorry, bad joke)

First we had to get rid of all the dead/dying plants (which was most of the garden...)

First we had to get rid of all the dead/dying plants (which was most of the garden…)

A couple hours later we were ready to plant! The garden teacher placed all the plants for us and we went on a gardening rampage. I wish I had taken a picture of the plant debris we accumulated. Just imagine wheelbarrowing away piles of dead plant- nothing more satisfying.

Jeremy and Rebecca adding some "rainbow" to the Rainbow Garden!

Jeremy and Rebecca adding some “rainbow” to the Rainbow Garden!

 

Louie and Jeremy making the garden beautiful!

Louie and Jeremy making the garden beautiful!

We ended by fertilizing and watering our baby plants. (I didn’t know such an emotional connection to plants existed until this day) I was really proud, though. This garden is at the front of the school so it’s the FIRST thing kids see in the morning. What better way to start a day than seeing some pretty flowers. It was so wonderful to see a garden transformed in only a matter of hours.

 

Jeremy fertilizing the new and improved garden.

Jeremy fertilizing the new and improved garden.

 

Jeremy and I trying to look glam while watering/fertilizing plants.

Jeremy and I trying to look glam while watering/fertilizing plants.

We had a great time working with City Year. The school grounds looked amazing when everyone left- I wish I had a before and after picture!

Team NOLA!

Team NOLA!

Our Day of Service didn’t end there. After rejuvenating ourselves with naps, we headed out to Fusions, a popular bar in NOLA. Louie, Jeremy, and I walked around the bar with condoms & info cards while Rebecca was our “rapid HIV tester” for the night. We offered free testing from 9 p.m. til a little past midnight. It was quite the success! Plus, there was a fabulous drag show (when will I learn to dance like that in heels?) so we had a grand time! :-)

All in all, we had a day full of team-building (manual labor creates bonds), gardening, outreach, and testing. Even though the core value of AmeriCorps is “service”, MLK Day of Service gave us the opportunity to reflect on the needs of our community, work with other service groups, and remember a great man whose actions are still inspiring masses.

 Until next time,

Team NOLA!

If you are interested in learning more about where we volunteered –> http://www.ashecharterschool.org/ashe.html

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