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Home for Hope

Today was our first day volunteering with the Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) in the bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. PACE was started by asian immigrants who did not want to send their elderly relatives away to live in retirement homes, but they wanted to have a place to send them during the day where they would be taken care of and stimulated.
When we arrived at PACE, we were surprised by how beautiful the facility was. The building was a spacious renovated Catholic church, with stained glass windows and high ceilings. We were greeted by Rebecca, who gave us a tour of the building and told us more about the organization. The facility has five doctors in a clinic that is open daily to the elderly, and they also have special care for the members who have dementia or severely disabled. She told us how valuable it was to have us volunteering there, because there are so many people that it’s hard for them to have one on one time.
We walked back into the central room, and scattered ourselves at different tables. I sat at a table with three other women, and one of the women was so friendly and immediately started asking me about where I was from and how I liked New Orleans. I was surprised by how engaging and friendly she was, because I had volunteered with the elderly in my community and usually had a hard time getting them to warm up and talk to me. She asked me to file and paint her nails because she wanted them to look nice for Easter, and after starting her nails she immediately asked me if I knew about Katrina. I said of course, and she started telling me how when she left her house she had nothing but a dress on, not even any underwear, when her kids came to her house to pick her up and start driving to Atlanta. She said she lost everything in her home except for the dress she was wearing. I was surprised by how positive she was in sharing her story. Instead of dwelling on her losses, she spoke of how generous and supportive everyone was around her. She said she was happy that her whole family (all her kids and all her grandkids) could live together in a hotel for a few months. She also said that while she was in Atlanta, people would notice her New Orlean accent and ask how her family was, and strangers would end up buying her groceries. I found it touching how her narrative focused on all the good despite the circumstances.
She also described to me how urgent it was to get out of New Orleans. There was a small window of time to decide whether you would get on the road in order to get out before you no longer can, or stay in your home. She described how one of her daughters was saved because she was swimming through the water and a helicopter found her and took her to a bus stop. She also shared how her daughter’s parent’s in law did not want to leave their home and their family had to leave them behind, and they drowned. I had tears forming in my eyes when she told me that story, because I imagined what those lost moments must have looked like. A couple, unable to get to their roof, watching the home they spent their lives together fill up with water, and having to say goodbye to each other as the water rose. You always hear Katrina referred to as a “disaster” and you picture houses underwater, but you don’t understand what a “disaster” really means until you hear the personal accounts of how people’s lives were uprooted.
We then served lunch to the seniors, and after lunch a jazz band came to the center to perform. To our surprise, the band that came had members from the band that performed on Saturday at Preservation Hall, a well known Jazz show off Bourbon Street. I was never a fan of jazz before coming to New Orleans, but something about seeing it performed live made me fall in love with it. When we saw it on Saturday, I felt tears coming to my eyes as I watched because the music feels like it's coming directly from their soul. As they performed for the seniors, they were swaying in their chairs, putting their hands up, shouting out to the band, and whenever they paused before the next song a lady from my table would shout “another one!! Keep going!”
It soon became time to go, and I hugged all the women at my table and told them I would be back tomorrow. The ladies were so sweet, and they told us that they were really happy we all came and that they had fun with me. As I left, I thought about how happy I was to have learned about this center, and to know that the seniors are so well taken care of, and that despite the old age they still laugh a lot and are energetic. Afterwards, we decided to take a short ride on the ferry down the mississippi, and then head over to Popeye’s so we could try the food in the state where it originated. While at the store, the manager came out and asked us where we were from, and said how happy he was he came to his store. We told him that we came all the way to Louisiana to come eat at his restaurant, and joked that we drove past 70 other Popeyes before we got to his. He kept saying “oh man!” With how happy he was, and we all started laughing when he said “i’m just bucking!” Because we had never heard that phrase before.

Gave 5.00 hours on 03/23/2016