No Matter How Long It Takes


On this page we plan to share our experiences and thoughts with those who could not travel with us. Maybe you’ll be inspired to get your own group together, or to make a donation or to support the rebuilding effort of one of the country’s most unique cities in some other way.

Laisse le bon temps rouler, or as they say in New Orleans, let the good times roll!


Heading Home

Posted July 19, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

It's a sad day in New Orleans. It is time to come home. More than one student said to me, "When are we coming back?" This transformative trip has a way of making your time and efforts here stick with you. This group of students created a unique bond and they will carry this into the world. I look forward to seeing these students continue to grow.

We depart the apartments, home for the students the past 8 days, at about 8:30 a.m. The vans are packed up again with not an inch of free space. I set the GPS and we're off to the Louis Armstrong Airport. Once there, we deposit everything on the curb and check in with Southwest Airlines. Jean, Kate and I return the vehicles to Enterprise and shuttle back to the airport. We are about two hours early but better safe than sorry. The students wander the airport for a while, grab snacks and last minute souvenirs and then we go through security. We hover around gate B2 waiting for the departure announcement which is right on time. Last minute picture are taken and then it gets quiet. The realization hits home that our work here is done. These are not the same students I brought down here eight days ago and they realize they are changed persons. Everyone looks around at New Orleans one last time and boards the plane.

Our flight stops in Tampa for (supposedly) 25 minutes but has a 2 hour delay so we are told to de-plane (where did that term come from?). Shortly afterwards, there is an announcement that we are boarding again. There is a scramble to get the group back together again but we manage and we're on our way within an hour. At 7:15pm we arrive in Hartford. Hugs and tears and laughs at the luggage carousel and the last of the students are gone by 8:30 p.m. My job is done.

Sydney and I walk to the car. I hear the following lyrics in my head:

Do You Know What Means To Miss New Orleans Lyrics

Louis Armstrong

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I'm not wrong this feeling's gettin' stronger
The longer, I stay away
Miss them moss covered vines the tall sugar pines
Where mockin' birds used to sing
And I'd like to see that lazy Mississippi hurryin' into spring

The moonlight on the bayou a creole tune that fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom and I'm wishin' I was there

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that's where you left your heart
And there's one thing more I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans

The moonlight on the bayou a creole tune that fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom and I'm wishin' I was there

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that's where you left your heart
And there's one thing more I miss the one I care for
More more than I miss New Orleans

Social Justice Tour with Kone

Posted July 18, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

"Thank you for your support and help in trying to get those communities up and running."

These are the first words we hear from Mr. Kone as he explains how 39% of poor communities in New Orleans have not been rebuilt since the disaster in 2005. Kone, as he prefers to be called, explains that he came "home" to New Orleans (after being away in California) to help with recovery efforts. He explains that his lecture/tour sort of jumps around with the dialogue (this much is VERY true) because he has so much to say. And then he begins to overwhelm the students and in a good way. Kone states that some of his information is from first hand experience or observations around him, some from reference materials or things that he has read. But he is very upfront about stating that some of what he will tell us is of his own personal opinion.

He begins by tell us about the people: 80% of the people most affected by the disasters were poor, working poor and lower social class members. Despite all of those woes, however, they were property owners prior to Katrina. In particular, the residents of the Lower 9th had the highest property ownership than any other area in Louisiana. This seems amazing since the average annual income of families in the Lower 9th is less than $20,000 per year. The strategy most employed by these people is shared survivorship and the pooling of resources.

Kone proceeds to tell us that he will concentrate on 4 historic communities in our talk and tour today:

  • Central City
  • Mid City
  • The Treme
  • Lower 9th

What started out as an expected 3 hours lecture/tour turned into 6 hours as the students peppered Kone with questions about the areas they visited. This was unfortunate only because everyone was hot, tired, thirsty and hungry. However, the questions and exchanges were stimulating as were the areas that were observed. The students were treated to an up-close tour of the levee walls in this trip. They stood on the spot where thousands were swept away when the levee system failed. I was fortunate enough to get an interview with one of the survivors and post that video for all to engage.

Most students came back from this tour in a somber state; understanding more than they did before they left. Another transformative moment in this trip has occurred. This trip is more than about our hands-on efforts on the community (while that, in of itself, is important) but also to show students a national issue up close and to give them skills to take hold of and change the world. Looking into the face of these participants, I see this taking place.

A day in the life of...

Posted July 17, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

Here is an example of my day for review.

At 5:30 a.m. the alarm clock rings and by 6:00 a.m. I am out the door. I bring Sydney and Mick to United Saints and I small-talk with the students over breakfast after which we all move to the meeting room for our morning briefing with Melissa. This is a little mumbling among the troops (and rightfully so!) that the one job they have been working on for the entire trip (preparing for and eventually painting a school) has been stolen from under their noses by another group. They just felt so invested in this work assignment that they hated to leave it incomplete and, even worse, leave it to someone else to do the "easy" part after they had done all the difficult features (scrapping, etc). They, however, take the task given to them and I accompany them. I try to be at each work location at least once so I can check on "needs" and document the group efforts. Today I join the group which is going to ARC.

ARC is an organization where people with intellectual disabilities contribute to the community in a unique way. As employees of ARC, thee people sort, package and recycle beads. The tons of beads which are made in China are recycled here and sorted in different types: pearl types; green for St. Patrick's Day; short strings; long strings; petite strings and special strings. Additionally there is a community garden that is cared for and soup which is made and sold by quarts and pints. At the mid-point of the day there is the "Wobble Break" in which one lead worker instructs those present in the dance steps for the "Wobble." (Please, please watch the dance video on facebook…guaranteed good laugh!)

We spent half of the day at ARC and then moved on to another partner agency: The Animal Rescue Center. Here is where abandoned pets live post-Katrina. Also the rescue center provides a place for owned pets to live because their owners have no home for them right now. Here, I met a married couple who come daily to visit their 3 cats because they are in temporary housing which does not allow pets. At this location, the MCC group participated in cleaning and scouring the area which housed the pets.

Everyone returned to the church location by 3:00 because the last hot meal of the day is served at 3:30pm.

Spotlight: United Saints and their Partner Organizations

Posted July 16, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

In most of the blog posts, I have shared with you some portion of our work day but there is so much more going on through United Saints in the community. United Saints works with many Off-Site Partners to restore the community in other vital ways (after all, it takes more than physical structures to make a community). Let me share with you some of their other endeavors where Manchester Community College Habitat for Humanity Chapter members have been involved.

  • Youth Rebuilding New Orleans "...engages local youth in the recovery and rebirth of the New Orleans area. Volunteers help reduce blight by rebuilding distressed and foreclosed homes. The finished homes are sold to teachers to stabilize neighborhoods and positively impact the education system."
  • ARC of Greater New Orleans " a non-profit organization serving people with intellectual disabilities and delays from birth through adulthood in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. They are committed to securing for all people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to develop function and live to their fullest potential."
  • The Lower 9th Ward Village "...serves as a hub where all community members can access or create essential resources to empower themselves, be self-sufficient, become whole after Katrina and beyond and sustain an equitable quality of life."
  • ARNO (Animal Rescue New Orleans) " a nonprofit grassroots volunteer organization founded by Jane Garrison and two of her good friends. Involved in hands-on Katrina rescue in the greater New Orleans area, Jane was one of the first out-of-town persons on the scene at "rescue headquarters" located at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, LA.
  • APEX Community Advancement, Inc. "...was formed for the express purpose of supporting, innovating and creating programs and services focusing on the needs of young people from age 5 through 25 in our communities. The center services children, primarily ages 12 to 18, during the day, with special activities and programs in the evening targeted to teens and young adults between 15 and 25."

Day 5

Posted July 15, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

Outside of the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen

It's a Sunday in New Orleans. We are not working today. Whatever shall I do to while away the time? LAUNDRY! Yes, I spent the day at the Black & Gold: Wash & Fold Laundromat with 30 bags of laundry. There are 4 monster-sized machines to wash and 4 more today. I take possession of these machines for 4 1/2 hours and run through all the laundry bags. Remember in an earlier blog when I thought up the brilliant idea of the mesh bags? In actuality, not such a good idea for several reasons. First and foremost: the bags (from Family Dollar) were mostly dry-rotted so several disintegrated in the washing machines. Those that did not fall apart had other issues: students failed to tie their bags properly as instructed and clothes became separated from their bags. I moved the bags and/or contents (2 bags per machine) through the routine for hours. All the while a massive thunderstorm hit the area. Lightning and thunder abounded for almost an hour and hinted at Armageddon. Finally done, I returned the loads to the apartments. And where was everyone else? At the SWAMP!

Yes, the students and faculty did a marvelous swamp tour and luckily because they were 40 miles away, they were oblivious to the storm. The pictures the students shared with me showed how much they enjoyed this trip. Everyone took a turn holding a baby alligator. The tour guide fed 6 feet gators from his boat and the students were surprised that he held out marshmallows and hot dogs as their treats. There was a tremendous amount of excited chatter as they shared their pictures and videos of the day. We gathered as a group at the close of the day for dinner at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. This restaurant is so much more than pizza! I tried the Pasta Jambalaya and found it quite tasty. This place also had a menu right in the range of the students wallets, too. After the meal, everyone leisurely strolled back to the vans for an early night in anticipation of work in the morning.

Day 4: Bastille Day!

Posted July 14, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

Statue of Joan of Arc

It's a big day in the French Quarter and the students are overwhelmed and joyous. Many of them came into town for the Running of the Bulls (OMG! ...and SO not what you might be thinking; see the photos) and then I met up with them at la Place de France for the Celebration de la Fete Nationale Francaise!

The procession began at Washington Artillery Park and arrived just behind the statue of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc). There, promptly at 10:00 am, the welcoming ceremony began. First to speak was Mme Brigitte Gomane, President Council of French Societies. Next were M. Frank Pizzolato, Executive Director of the French Market Corporation, and M. Damien Regnard, Elected Representative of French Citizens Living Abroad. And here was the main speaker: the Honorable Consul General of France, M. Jean-Claude Brunet from France! At 10:15 a.m. the wreath was laid and all sang La Marseillaise. The reception took place at the Market Cafe Terrace directly behind the statue where the public was invited and shared in champagne and cake (of the "let them eat cake" type). Marie Antoinette was there in her lovely gown and delicate fan (I know she was burning up!) and passed out cupcakes and posed with passers by.

I was bold enough to approach to Consul General and invite him to share a moment with our students and he acquiesced. He told us how he knew of Connecticut. He had previously been in New York and spent some time in our fair state during the fall. M. Brunet mentioned how beautifully colored the trees were during his visit. He also discussed why we were her and was quite impressed that we were helping out a state so far away. The students enjoyed their time with him and after his departure we chatted about the significance and importance of Bastille Day and why New Orleans (or the United States, for that matter) was involved in this holiday in the first place. It was quite a lucky break that we were here for this weekend.

After this event, the student scattered to explore the French Market and the French Quarter. We will regroup later in the day at the Old US Mint or at the Faubourg St. John Block Party hosted by the Merchant's Association. At these events there will be music, crafts and food from local merchants. I will blog again at the end of the day and see what there is to report to our followers. Happy Bastille Day!

Day 3

Posted July 13, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

T.J. Barber has arrived in New Orleans!

It's a good day to be in New Orleans. We're ready for another day of meaningful and rewarding work. Here's the routine: up at 5am, breakfast at 6am, morning meeting for work assignments at 7am, on the road by 7:30 a.m.

Today TJ Barber (Director of Student Activities) joins us and his work assignment is with the Drywall Team. United Saints Coordinators, Twiggy and John, take TJ, Sydney, Mick and Alex and hit the road before any other group. "The Church Group" begs to keep their assignment because the Church Ladies made them Red Beans and Rice yesterday for lunch - students: they are SO easy to bribe. "The School Team" did such a bang up job yesterday, they are returned to the school to work in another building. The Principal and teachers specifically requested the MCC group to return there because they said we were, "...a joy to work with!" I was so very proud of our contingency!

In preparation for the dreaded Laundry Day, I came up with a brain storm idea this morning. Large, individual heavy duty mesh laundry bags! I found a Family Dollar store and bought 30. Each student can put whatever they need washed in their mesh bags and I'll spend my Saturday morning leisurely whiling away the hours at the laundromat.

The cultural trip of the day will happen tonight at 9:00 p.m. when the fireworks take place to kick off Bastille Day. New Orleans is notorious for their pyrotechnic displays. We will sit in the grass along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River and watch the stupendous display against the backdrop of the Algiers community on the opposing coastline. The vans full of students will arrive into the French Quarter around 6:30 p.m. and the students will be allowed to shop and stroll for a few hours. That's the plan (JAMAL and ANDREW!).


Day 2

Posted July 12, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

5:00 a.m. comes quick when you're tired from travel but we rose and started our second day in New Orleans. Breakfast at United Saints, our host organization ( is a free-for-all. There is a table set with goods from Whole Foods and all types of cereals. Everyone chooses what they like and then moves over to the Lunch Table. There, one chooses what they would like to pack for their lunch: sandwiches, fruit, etc.

The central location of all activity for our volunteer organization, United Saints, is at the First Street United Methodist Church. This historic church building is the oldest black church in New Orleans, founded before the Civil War as the Lafayette Mission. It is so fitting that it is the central location for community volunteers.

After breakfast there was an introductory meeting. Each person spoke up in turn and said where they were from and their names. We were informed as to our work sites and the tasks taking place at each location. Melissa led this meeting as she is the United Saints supervisor. Our group was split between 3 locations as we are the largest group in house. (More on that later.) After that initial meeting, we had our safety talk and were instructed on such things as how to safely climb a ladder, etc. We were then dispatched to our respective work sites.

Sydney, Nick, Alex and Mckenzie were dispatched, along with their United Saints supervisor, John, to do drywall work. Madison, Becca, Jordan went with MJ and Kate to the ARC project to work for the day. The ARC is where special needs and handicapped workers sort and bag Mardi Gras beads in a therapeutic environment. Jean Wynn took her team to paint at the Abramson School. She was joined by Matt, Jess, Abby, Jazmine, Jonathan, Ben, Michaela, Lyndsay, John and Kyle. Mount Triumph church, another historically famous Black church, was tended to by Jackie, Mallory, Sean, Anne, Stefanie, Jamal and Andrew. Activities at this location were priming, siding and pain scraping. These lucky individuals had lunch cooked for them by the "Church Ladies" and, from the phone calls I received, they were quite grateful for the excellent southern meal. My job: to run between the three sites and distribute their water bottles, etc. and see to everyones needs and well-being.

By afternoon, I had everyone settled and could turn my attention to planning the balance of our cultural events for the week. This is Bastille Weekend here in New Orleans and there are many, many events. I will take the students to sit on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi on Saturday evening for the Bastille Fireworks at 9:00. This evening we have 7:00 p.m. reservations at Ralph & Kacoo's Seafood Restaurant. The owner, Don, has agreed to surprise us with his choice of meals for the entire group for one flat price (what a deal!). To get into the French Quarter, the entire group will be taking the St. Charles Streetcar. From there, we will walk the 2 blocks to the restaurant. It's been another great day in N'awlins.

Day 1: Arrival in New Orleans

Posted July 11, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

And so it begins: another NOLA trip. I distinctly remember saying, and more than once, "I'll never do this again!" So much for unkept promises. The day has finally arrived and, after very little sleep, we arrive at the airport at 4:30 a.m. Was I the first one there? No. Waiting curbside was Jazmine Schand with her mother and brother. Someone was more anxious than I about being tardy. Hugs all around and others starting arriving shortly thereafter. We used curbside check-in and the Southwest employee there pulled us all out of line and made a "special group check-in" for us. We only had one tardy student (ahem, not calling any names, Jamal) but he caught up with us quickly. As a surprise, we had Sr. Mary Friel (Psychology Adjunct Faculty) meet us at the airport at 5:30 a.m. to give us a send-off blessing. Sr. Mary has been on all previous trips with us to NOLA but could not attend this year. She will be sorely missed and promises to follow our antics on Facebook! Like a good teacher, Sr. Mary arrived with handouts and shared a meaningful prayer with us. Thunderous applause were her reward and as a surprise we presented her with a tee-shirt just like the ones we all are wearing for this trip. I think it was so extra-special that she was there at the airport to see us off.

Remember those surprises I mentioned in my last blog? Well, the first set of them were distributed before we even went through security! For the "young ones" I had a bag of teen magazines, puzzle books, lip balm, journals and pens. By "young," I mean the granddaughters, Madison and Jordan, who belong to Professor Kate McLaughlin and Dr. Jean Wynn. Additionally, Mary Justine's (MJ's) daughter, Becca, is counted among them. Coincidentally, they are all 14 years old! Also traveling with us are the "little ones." Those are the children of Professor Mick Posner and his wife, Rachel. There is little Faith who is 3 years old and "King" Henry who is 11 months old. Yes, I had a surprise bag of goodies for them as well! Faith, whose pictures I have admired on the Facebook pages of her parents, is a fan of all things "Princess-y." She received a stocker book of all the Disney princesses and a story book with a princess theme. "King" Henry, who has THE most adorable little smile, received a early-reader hard-paged Mets book with an alphabet theme. This was more to appease his father, Mick, who is a die-hard Mets fan (go figure?!).

I was surprised at how easy is was to get 33 people cleared through the TSA checkpoint and in record time. We only tripped the alarm once (next time take off your lanyard, Nick). We had to have the baby formula scrutinized but otherwise it went smoothly. That pre-travel review meeting proved to be quite beneficial to all.

By 6:05 a.m. we sat at Gate 4 at Bradley Airport waiting for our 7:05 a.m. departure on flight 1961 into Tampa. There we will change planes and arrive in New Orleans by 11:20 a.m. barring any delays. I took the first of what will surely be many roll calls. This proved the perfect time for a group picture, too. At this point people wandered a little bit and I was not concerned because we had plenty of time. Some stood in line at Dunkin' Donuts, others bought snacks, newspapers or magazines at one of the nearby shops and many made use of the restrooms. Not worries for me, however, since all were seated back at the gate within minutes. There is where I unveiled the "Breakfast Bags." One bag contained individual portions of mini-bagels, cookies, muffins, crackers, raisins, nuts, Nutria-Grain bars, etc. The other bag was the cold pack: individual sandwich baggies filled with strawberries, green and red grapes, red and green apple slices and bunches of ripe bananas. The students truly enjoy this treat and let's just say the bag was much lighter getting onto the plane than it was earlier. I then distributed the powder packets which could be added to a water bottle changing the beverage from water over to fruit punch, lemonade or cranberry juice.

Timing is everything! Just as we completed our breakfast, the announcement was made to line up for boarding and we did just that. I was the first in our group to board and was position comfortably in the exit row with my clip board in hand as the group boarded. I checked off each name then settled back with my coffee.

Our climb-out went smoothly and as soon as the seat belt sign was extinguished, I popped out of my seat to check on the group members and snap a few pictures. Everyone was calm; even those who were experiencing their first flights. Because Abby Bibens and John Rivera are the only two who has done the NOLA journey with us, they alone know the "special" rules: if you fall asleep on the plane, be prepared to see some very funny and embarrassing pictures when you awaken. As you will see from our photo gallery, there were plenty sleepy partners. And now, compliments of Jean Wynn's granddaughter, Jordan, we have to worry about a Peruvian drinking prank: if, after completing to drink a beverage, you fail to tape the glass on the table 3 times you must pay the penalty: 10 push-ups. Kate, Madison and I are now party to this game. What have I gotten myself into?!

We breezed into Tampa, FL with 40 minutes to change gates. Our New Orleans flight departed from gate 34 which was 3 gates away. In that short amount of time, I temporarily misplaced two students. Again, not calling any names, Jamal AND his cousin, Andrew. They turned up as we lined up to board our flight. Oy! So far, so good.

The students seem well entrenched in their travels now. I see a comforting pattern beginning to emerge. I have 3 ladies who are doing lovely work in their coloring books. No, it is not the famous "young ones." These 3 are college students - go figure (but, oh how beautifully they stay within the MJ and her daughter pair up and work the magazines. Kate (Mathematics Professor Emeritus) works the math puzzles with her granddaughter, Madison. Jean (Anthropology Professor plays cards with her granddaughter, Jordan. Mick's (Sign Language Adjunct Faculty) daughter, Faith, is really loving her window on the world and squeals with delight as she peers at the clouds. Andrew and Jamal put their heads together with their phones on Airplane Mode. And to top things off, I was informed that when I took a quick 5 minute nap on the first fight, somehow someone snapped a shot at me...this to the delight of all the students.

This is going to be a delightful trip.

Getting Ready...

Posted July 9, 2012 by Professor Lucy Hurston

We had our pre-trip meeting on Sunday July 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm. I am convinced that each year we have yet another great group of students and chaperones to go on this adventure. We are ALL excited to take on this task. Tee shirts were passed out today; the last of the forms completed and information disseminated. We enjoyed a lovely meal at Bloomfield Village Pizza as we bonded as a group and enjoyed the nervous chatter.

MJ did her opener and shared pertinent information; I followed up after her. IT'S ON! Would you like to see us off and wish us good luck? PLEASE join us on Wednesday July 11, 2012 at 4:45 am at Bradley Airport at the Southwest Airlines counter. Watch for the daily blog postings, pictures and videos.

Visit the 2009 NOLA Retreat Archive »

Last Update: July 20 2012
For additional information, contact: Lucy Hurston