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Sacramento State sophomore rower Kim Gross recently embarked upon a one-week volunteer service trip to New Orleans with SALSC (Student-Athletes Leading Social Change). The group, which consisted of 18 student-athletes from eight different Universities around the country, lent a helping hand to an area of New Orleans still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The group stayed in a Bunkhouse from July 8-14, and fulfilled numerous service duties throughout the week such as painting a school, building benches, weeding gardens, and sorting through and recycling Mardi Gras beads. Gross documented each day of her stay in New Orleans and was kind of enough to share with hornetsports.com.

Monday, July 8
Today was a great first day. After our first meeting and orientation with HandsOn (organization that provides volunteer service opportunities in New Orleans), we got to see a little bit of New Orleans and learn more about how it was affected by Hurricane Katrina. It's amazing, from one block to another, you can go from million dollar homes to houses that haven't been touched since the day families were forced to evacuate in 2005. We drove through the Lower Ninth Ward where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have donated to rebuilding. It was nice to see that these people were getting help. I liked that, in order to get a new home, they needed to apply and do community service as a type of payment. It's sad to think how much has changed for that neighborhood. Those families grew up in the same houses for generations and to see how much it has changed must be hard. We also got to walk around the French Quarter and see Bourbon Street. Life is different here, and you can tell that people have a more laid back approach.

Tuesday, July 9
Today was our first day of work at Sylvanie Williams College Prep Elementary. Before we started, the dean gave us background information on the school. He mentioned that last year was the first time they had a student get accepted to college. That amazed me. For work, we were split into two groups: one worked on demolishing benches and a gazebo in their playground area while the other painted the third story hallway of the only building. I thought that demolishing benches wouldn't be that hard. I was definitely wrong. After working, we left the school and went to Mardi Gras World, a warehouse/museum where they make the floats for the largest crews in New Orleans. It's so different than what people make it out to be. Hearing the history opened my eyes to the true culture of New Orleans. Seeing how much time, effort, and money goes in to this celebration is truly spectacular.     

Wednesday, July 10

Today we went back to the school and finished the projects that we were working on yesterday. My group worked on the first floor hallway, while the other group finished demolishing the gazebo. Once we switched groups after lunch, our group began sanding all the lumbar and started the process of building new benches. I was really nervous about messing up the benches. They just handed me a piece of paper and power drill, and told me to go for it. I had never done anything like this and either had the other two girls that were with me. It turned out great! Its an amazing feeling to know we're really helping this school. I can tell that all the athletes here are doing this because they genuinely care and want to help people. Its inspiring to be around a group of such humble young adults that care more about other people than themselves.

Thursday, July 11
Entering the day, I was nervous that we wouldn't finish our work at the school. We still had to paint two coats on the second floor hallway, finish building four benches, and stain all of them as well. I don't know why I was even nervous…we got done early! I spent most of the day staining benches and then also helped in the hallways. Before we left, all the teachers thanked us and showed us a cheer that they do at their school with their students. All of them were so thankful, it was great to see how enthusiastic they were about starting their school year with better facilities.

Friday, July 12
Today, we worked at the Vintage Farms at the Arc of Greater New Orleans. The facility was one of the enterprises that Arc has built to create jobs for adults with disabilities. Today, I was put in a group with five other girls and we were in charge of weeding the gardens that surrounded the main building. It was overwhelming, but I had a blast. We got to work with Carry, one of the adults with a mental disability who works there. He was so happy to garden, doing a job that many people probably wouldn't enjoy. Yet, there he was sweating four days a week and loving every second of it. It was fun talking to him and seeing how much he knew about all the plants there. After we finished at the Arc, we went to another part of Louisiana and went on an airboat tour of one of the swamps. It was awesome! Now, I know way more than I need to know about alligators. The swamp was a different kind of beauty than I'm used to seeing in Sacramento and San Diego (her hometown). The houses on the swamp were amazing and it was great to see that part of Louisiana.

Saturday, July 13
Today was a great way to end the trip. We worked with the Arc organization again at one of their other enterprises, sorting and recycling Mardi Gras beads. Everyone had a really good time doing this, and naturally, we were all competing to sort the most beads. As a whole, we sorted through 2,000 pounds of beads! I think we all wanted to stay longer and see how much we could get done, but you could tell everyone was really happy with how much we did. To end the day, we went to the French Quarter and got to see the last of the French Market before it closed down for the day. While we were there, a few of us tried alligator on a stick. I feel weird saying this, but it was actually very good. We also got to have a nice dinner at Manning's, Peyton Manning's restaurant. Sitting down at dinner, it was neat to see how close everyone had become. It was like I was having dinner with old friends, not people that I had just met six days ago. Overall, I am very thankful for this experience. I think being student-athletes, we have a great platform to help throughout our communities where our schools are located. I know this has opened my eyes, and I can't wait to explore some ways to help in Sacramento.