We started with building homes in the Gulf Coast, but that is not where we stopped. On our trips the students engage with the New Orleans community to learn that it is not just a house they are building—it’s a community.
There is more that happens between when a student is accepted to come on the trip and their arrival in New Orleans. All trip participants are expected to raise awareness of the persisting challenges the residents of New Orleans still face today. They talk to their friends, family, and neighbors about the devastation felt throughout the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. They discuss how some neighborhoods remain largely untouched since the storm hit in 2005, while in other places there are just empty lots, leaving some communities forgotten.
In addition to raising awareness about the ongoing problems in the New Orleans community, the students work to improve their own by volunteering in their local neighborhoods both before and after the trip. Some students give their time to food banks while others participate in neighborhood clean-ups. Through their experiences with SAA, the students gain an appreciation of the importance of rebuilding communities both across the country and in their own backyard.
Students who have gone on the trips before have the option to enroll in our Core Team Leader Program. During the trips, students are divided into teams and each team has a “captain,” a role fulfilled by a Core Team Leader. Throughout the year leading up to the trip, the Core Team Leaders plan events, recruit other students to go on the trip, plan community service opportunities, engage with their team, and develop leadership skills. Through this program, students gain real world experience today so they can solve the problems of tomorrow.