It’s Been Tough

“The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
    To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.” — Ecclesiastes 1:18

I did a brave thing. Something I might not have been able to do almost two years ago, before I moved to New Orleans. I stood in front of the Presbytery of South Louisiana and told them the story of the work I am doing here and the struggle and reality of it all. It’s difficult to describe how difficult my job is. I could give you definitions of sex trafficking, trauma, addiction, burnout and secondary trauma, but you wouldn’t be able to feel what I feel. My job has not only been preparing me for school, but has been teaching me about the realities of the world. And I’m learning what I think about those realities, and how I am going to allow those realities to affect my world view. I don’t have any profound revelations to share in this blog post. Maybe later this year, maybe next year, maybe never. But below is the speech I shared at our last presbytery meeting. It will give you a glimpse into what I’m doing here. Below that I will include pictures from Mardi Gras and this past month.

Hello! My name is Courtney, and I am one of the Young Adult Volunteers serving in New Orleans this year. This is actually my second year as a YAV in New Orleans. This year I am working at a nonprofit called Eden House. If you have never heard of Eden House, brace yourself. We are the only social service organization in New Orleans that serves adult victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We house up to eight victims of trafficking for two years and provide services such as health care, addiction and trauma therapy, education and job training free of cost. Our executive director and board also offer outreach and education for the public on the prevalence and effects of human trafficking in New Orleans, which consistently ranks in the top 20 cities in the country for human trafficking. I am the program assistant for Eden House. I am in charge of interns, social media, small financials for residents, I help with fundraising, and I am on the front line for phone calls and emails from people inquiring about Eden House. My job varies from day to day and there is never a dull moment.

I plan to become a social worker in the future, and Eden House is definitely preparing me for a career in social services. I am learning about how to work with victims of trauma and the issues that usually arise with trauma, such as addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. There is no better place than Eden House to learn about the tragedy that is human trafficking, and the sadness that surrounds its victims. The hardest day of work, so far, surrounded a woman I spoke to who I’m going to call Emma. As I mentioned earlier, I answer the phone for Eden House, and many of the phone calls we receive are from victims interested in joining our program. We only have the capacity for eight residents, and there is a process for admitting a new resident that usually takes a while. When Emma called she was desperate to find a safe place to recover. She had been trafficked by her mother since she was a child. During her years of selling her body against her will, she claimed to have had more than ten children, all of whom were taken from her and sold by her pimp. She was addicted to drugs to numb her pain and to keep her working, because she couldn’t get the drugs if she wasn’t making money. She would call me every day, multiple times a day, asking to join Eden House. Our social worker and counselor had decided that her trauma was too great for Eden House. They did not have the capability to give her all of the services she would require, and it would negatively affect the other residents who were farther along in their recovery. They were desperately trying to find her another program to join, and in the meantime, Emma would call me and all I could tell her was try again tomorrow. One day I picked up the phone and it was not Emma on the other end. It was Emma’s friend, who was also trying to find a program for Emma to join. She informed us that she had found Emma’s body earlier that morning. She had overdosed on whatever drug she was addicted to. Whether it was an accident or not is unclear but it is clear that this woman was in pain because of the years of trauma she had experienced. I couldn’t help but break down in tears because we never could get Emma the help she needed. But as I looked at the progress our current residents had made, even in the short few months I had been there, I knew there was hope. As Eden House grows, we will be more equipped to help women like Emma. There are hundreds of victims like Emma around the country and around the world. If Eden House can help as many victims as possible, one woman at a time, we will be taking the necessary steps toward ending human and sex trafficking altogether.

Eden House certainly has a way of testing my faith. Coming face to face with the evils of sexual exploitation, addiction and mental illness doesn’t exactly create an easy environment to see the Gospel in action. Which is why I am so lucky to have my beautiful intentional community this year, as well as the guidance of Layne. I believe that intentional community it the most important aspect of the YAV program. My community’s constant love and support gives me the strength to get up and go to work each morning. Our twice weekly meetings give us a chance to share our joys and struggles, talk about our faith, and experience new spiritual practices to grow in our individual faiths together. We are never alone, whether we like it or not, and we are always free to express ourselves. It’s amazing how seven completely different young adults, can come together and help each other grow in ways we didn’t even know we needed.

I want to thank all of you, Presbytery of South Louisiana, for your continued support of the YAV program. I am so happy and blessed to have the opportunity to serve here twice. You have been a huge part of these two life changing years, which have turned me from a small, shy desert girl with no direction, into a slightly more confident, swamp dwelling, Mardi Gras-loving, budding social worker. I am so excited to see where these next five months take my housemates and me, and with your support, I know we will go far. Thank you.

How to Make $130,000 in Two Hours

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you. — Deuteronomy 16:17

From October to November 16 this year my life was consumed by one thing: Eden House’s annual fundraiser, An Evening in the Garden of Eden. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I put my blood, sweat, and tears into this event. Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but it was definitely something I had never done before and there was a lot of pressure to get it done right.

An Evening in the Garden of Eden is our biggest fundraiser of the year. It’s based off the Benevon Model of fundraising, where the programs are short, strictly scripted, and it is made clear at every step of the fundraiser that guests will be asked to give money. The program itself follows a specific flow that has been proven effective in convincing people to donate, and it includes facts about the program, emotional stories and achievements Eden House has made. There were two co-chairs for the event who invited their friends to be table hosts. The table hosts invited enough of their friends to fill a table and send them personalized invitations My job was to do invite other donors to fill gaps and do all of the little stuff, and while the jobs were small, they were just as important to the smooth operation of the event and they all piled up very quickly.

Here is an overview of how I spent my last two months:

  • Put together a list of everyone who donated $500.00 or more over the past year. Made a list with addresses to send them an invitation to the fundraiser.
  • Found a printer who can print 500 invitations. Compared three different companies and called them all to see if they offer any discounts for nonprofits.
  • Went over the guest list with the president and treasurer of Eden House. Took vigorous notes as they listed all of the spouses I didn’t know existed. Discussed at length the proper etiquette of which spouse’s name goes first and the ethics of using “and” over “&.” Was also informed that because of the high volume of invitations big donors receive, it would be impolite to send an invitation with a printed address labels. Told the interns they would need to hand-write each address.
  • Double and triple checked the handwritten invitations to find repeats and incorrect addresses and spelling. We threw away a lot of envelopes…
  • Cried a little bit.
  • Registered every single guest with a table host in our online event site and then transferred their information onto a spreadsheet.
  • Panicked because no one we sent an invitation to was registering and would not have a place to sit.
  • Ordered vases for the centerpieces.
  • Tried to figure out how to make our new website go live. It worked but took a few days to actually show up and I thought I broke it.
  • Hired an audio-visual tech person to set up projectors at the fundraiser. Learned a lot about screen sizes.
  • Played with a baby kangaroo that an artist helping with the fundraiser just happened to have in her purse. Screenshot_20161212-135337.png
  • Begged past interns I had never met to volunteer at the fundraiser.
  • Watched as my boss and our two co-chairs made a seating chart in half an hour and have serious discussions about whom was allowed to sit with whom.
  • Considered burning the board with the seating chart when after the meeting, ten more people called to register and wanted to be seated at tables that were already full.
  • An intern converted the seating chart into a Google Doc for easy editing. So helpful. No burning necessary.Screenshot_20161212-135357.png
  • The day before the fundraiser, waited for two hours at Office Depot with my boss for our program to be printed. Discovered that in order for it to fold correctly we would have to cut a half inch off of the ends of every page.
  • Silently and out loud thanked Dana, who did my job last year, a billion times for helping me.
  • The day of the fundraiser, typed up 300 name tags with table numbers. Twenty people called to register, tables were rearranged, one entire table was moved. Threw out the name tags and had to start again.
  • Messed up the printing of the name tags. Spent over $100.00 on more name tag paper and had to print one page at a time and hour before guests began to show up.
  • Lost three pages of name tags.
  • Ignored how beautiful the venue was because guests were starting to arrive and I hadn’t changed into my dress yet.img956700
  • Tried to explain to ten volunteers and interns how to do a job I had never done before.
  • Introduced two important people to each other and felt awesome because I knew them both.
  • Was asked a question by an intern and knew the answer and felt great.
  • Was asked another question by an intern and did not know the answer and undid my great feeling.
  • Met two people who did not RSVP. Asked my boss if they could sit at the nearly empty table in the back and she said they were too important and they would have to squeeze into one of the full tables in the front. Panicked.
  • Crossed my fingers as everyone sat down. Magically, everyone had a seat.
  • Helped the Mayor of New Orleans escape out the back.
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    Me and an intern but more importantly, the bald man facing away from us is Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

  • Tried not to cry as a resident shared her story with 300 fundraiser guests.
  • Handed a table host more pledge forms.
  • Packed everything up and stuffed it into two cars. Almost lost a $500.00 check.
  • Went to an after-party at Eden House’s presidents very fancy house and realized I hadn’t breathed in two months.
  • Ate a lot of chocolate and drank some champagne.
  • Went to sleep without taking my makeup off.
  • Helped hand write thank you notes to everyone who donated and we put them in the mail last week!

On top of all of my fundraising tasks, I still had to do all of my normal daily tasks, including getting checks signed by board members, handing out weekly stipends to residents, recruiting inters for next semester, and taking phone messages. I definitely wanted to rip my hair out a few times during this whole process, but it all got done and the fundraiser was beautiful! It was also apparently the most financially successful fundraiser we’ve had so far. I learned a lot about how to put on a fundraiser, how to ask for money in an effective way, and about an entirely new social class.

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Every day I make a to-do list in a notebook so I can cross things off as I go. November 2 was a good day when I crossed most things off, but a lot of the time I didn’t finish a lot of tasks.

When I signed up to be a YAV, I was expecting to work with people who are in a different socio-economic class from me. Last year many of the families at Encore were low-income and I learned how that affected the kids’ education. The women of Eden House are also in a lower class than my family. I give them a small stipend each week and it’s an interesting feeling to be someone who is partly in charge of their income. But the fundraiser was  a completely different story. The guests at the fundraiser make way more money than I could ever hope to make. They are doctors and lawyers who can freely give thousands of dollars to a cause they feel good about. I learned about the proper way to address an envelope to make it more likely that they will open it. I learned that for certain people, it’s better for the president of Eden House to speak to them rather than the executive director or– heaven forbid– an intern. I felt a little out of place at the fundraiser itself, next to hundreds of people who were ready to give away thousands of dollars to these women most of them had never personally met. It was interesting for me, someone who is still learning how to interact in an in-between state with my middle class privileged life and the lower class world that I have been mingling with for a year, to be suddenly thrust into this world of people who might choose to give less money if the wine at an event is cheaper, or not even attend an event they were invited to at all if the address on the envelope is not hand written.

I suppose there will always be something new for me to learn in this life I’ve chosen to lead. A life where I am often in situations where I am interacting with people I never would have the opportunity to meet if I had stayed in Tucson and lived the same sheltered life I was used to. I have given myself the privilege of learning about my privilege and because of that I will forever be learning and growing. I could not be more thankful for this life.

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P.S. Our fundraiser was extremely successful, but if you feel called to give to Eden House this holiday season, the residents and I would sincerely appreciate it. I wrote an article for our website about all the different ways you can give to Eden House complete with graphics I created. I’m quite proud of it. Click here to read it.

Highs and Lows

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” –Romans 5:3-4

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Last year I watched the Disney movie Inside Out for the first time. If you haven’t seen it, do it now and come back because I’m about to spoil it. The movie is all about the emotions everyone feels and how they interact with each other and shape our lives. The emotions in a little girl, Riley’s head take turns reacting to different things that happen to her and creating memories. Joy and Sadness have a feud because Joy thinks that to have a good life, every memory and experience only happy events. Sadness tends to focus on the negatives in Riley’s life: how she let people down or how she misses her friends and so on.

Every Tuesday in New Orleans we have community meetings, and we always start our meetings with highs and lows. We all share one great thing and one not so great thing that happened that week. I’ve been experiencing many highs and lows throughout the past month.

Low: The weather has been all over the place lately and although it started as terrible allergies, I now think I have a cold. Being sick stresses me  out, which is not good because in addition to the weather, stress probably brought on this illness.

High: I’VE COMPLETED MY FUNDRAISING! I have met and exceeded my fundraising goal for my second year! Thank you so much to everyone who gave to my year to support me in my year of service. My heart is full of love and I am in awe of your generosity.

Low: Preparing for a fundraiser is no joke. Eden House’s fancy fundraiser is next month and preparing for it has kept me extremely busy. I feel like I get a hundred emails a day about invitations and table hosts and center pieces. I will be very happy when the fundraiser is over.

High: There was a lot of fun this month! Our spiritual practice this month play and fun, which meant our house bonded by playing Twister, going roller skating, and carving pumpkins. My housemate and co-worker and wonderful friend from last year, Jean, came into town for a surprise visit! We spent the day visiting our old school, seeing our students, and catching up with each other at Juan’s Flying Burrito. I also had the opportunity to go to Voodoo Music Festival in City Park where I got to see some great artists, Band of Horses, Arcade Fire, Sir the Baptist, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Low: I share an office with the clinical staff, so I listen to the residents’ needs the same way they do. Because of this, I hear a lot of sad stories, as you can imagine with trafficking victims. I’ve been learning a lot that will prepare me for my MSW, but it’s difficult to listen to. I am still finding it hard to listen to others’ pain, and I don’t know what this will mean for my future career or sanity.

High: I had the opportunity to attend a graduation from a therapy program. One of our residents attended group and individual therapy every day for eight weeks. At the end of the program, another staff member and I, along with a few residents were allowed to attend her graduation. We and the members of her group wrote positive notes and affirmations and read them aloud for her. It was wonderful to hear the members of her group talk about how much they love her and how much she had grown. It was definitely a joy to see the progress that the women of Eden House make throughout their two years there with all of the services my work site provides.

At the end of Inside Out, Joy learns that she cannot exist without Sadness. That Riley can’t experience Joy if she doesn’t also experience Sadness. And that emotions can be both happy and sad at the same time. Inside Out teaches us that life is made up entirely of highs and lows. You can’t have one without the other. My lows feel very low but I think it makes my highs feel higher. When I feel joy I can hold onto it and savor it. Joy and Sadness coexist in my head, and Sadness helps me recognize Joy. I see the progress Eden House residents make, I become closer to my housemates, I learn something new, I talk to a good friend. Things happen that remind me that the world has good in it. I’m slowly learning to seek the good in the midst of the bad, and to not focus on the negative.

First Impressions of Eden House

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
 Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.” –Psalm 22:1-2

My second year is here! I have officially worked for two weeks at Eden House, and oh boy, it’s a lot! Eden House is a recovery home for victims of sex trafficking. It is a two year program where residents receive trauma therapy, health and dental care, and live in a community where love and support are emphasized. I will describe my experience of my first two weeks by “checking in” the way we do when we have meetings at Eden House.

Physically, I am exhausted. I am learning something new every day at Eden House, whether it’s how to manage our social media pages, write a news letter, handle petty cash, give jobs to give interns, or even check voicemail, it’s all coming at me and it’s coming fast. When I get home (after crawling through rush hour traffic that is both frustratingly slow and terrifyingly dangerous), I just want to lie down and sleep.

Emotionally, I am hanging on. The residents at Eden House are used to new interns coming into their home every semester and then leaving to pursue their own careers in other places. They don’t get attached because they know it won’t last long. I will be there a little longer than most of the interns, but the residents have applied that same mindset to me. They don’t really talk to me or ask me for help, even though I now handle their stipends and call for house maintenance, because they don’t know me and they know I won’t be staying forever. The counselor at Eden House told me that all employees go through a period of “hazing” with the residents, where they test to see if someone is really going to stick around and care for them. This time will pass and it will make me stronger. Eventually the residents will learn that I am here to serve them and take care of their home. And although I will be leaving in a year, that won’t affect how much I care about the residents and my job.

Spiritually, I am struggling. Sex trafficking is an awful, awful thing. I don’t know about any of the resident’s specific stories and struggles but every one of them goes to trauma therapy and their identities and location of their home is confidential to protect them from dangerous people they might know. But I enjoy getting to know these women. They are funny and kind (despite the “hazing” I am experiencing), and their trauma has obviously changed their lives forever. These women are good people, so why are they victims? Why do they have to feel on edge all the time and have trouble trusting people who are kind to them, and believe they don’t deserve anything good? It doesn’t make sense to me, especially as a Christian who believes that God is good and that God cares for people. Because if God cared, why is sex trafficking so prevalent in our society? Why is New Orleans a trafficking hub?

I am grateful for this new experience. I am ready to learn more about sex trafficking, social work, trauma, and nonprofits. I am grateful to my site coordinator, Layne, for believing in me enough to encourage me to do this job, even though it is difficult. I am grateful to my new community. They are already so kind an supportive and although we are still learning how to live together, I can tell it’s going to be a great year, and I am excited to build friendships with them.

I still need money for fundraising! I am required to raise $3,000 to support me this year and I still have a long way to go! Please consider donating to my year by clicking “support me” at the top of the page. Thank you!

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Hanging out at Dat Dog on Frenchmen St. after our tour of the French Quarter.

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A snack break at Chick Fil A after we helped clear out a house in Denham Springs, LA that was flooded.

Year Two is Fast Approaching!

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. — 2 Corinthians 9:7

I have about a week before I venture on another long road trip from Arizona to Louisiana! I will soon have new housemates, a new job, and a new volunteer year filled with new experiences and opportunities for growth.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported me during my first YAV year in New Orleans. I finished my fundraising a lot sooner than I thought I would, and it made me feel so loved. I couldn’t believe how willing people were to give to me and follow me on this exciting journey. It has been wonderful knowing that people at home are thinking of me and praying for me. I could feel the support from hundreds of miles away.

Now that this second year is approaching, I will need some more support. I will need to fund raise again and ask for more prayers from everyone reading this blog. If you are willing and able to support me in my goal to raise $3,000 to cover my cost of living, I would very much appreciate it. If you have any questions, please contact me. Thank you so much for your support!

If you are willing and able to make a tax-deductible donation, you have a couple options.

You may send a check to this address:

Rev. Layne Brubaker

Young Adult Volunteers

P.O. Box 8666
New Orleans, LA 70182

Please make the check out to Presbytery of South Louisiana, and in the memo line write Courtney Lauver–YAV.

–OR–

If you would like to donate online, you can do it through the Presbyterian Church (USA). You can use the ECO number for my site which is  <E051474>.  ECO stands for Extra Commitment Opportunity.  This is an account in the Presbyterian Church (USA) where people can make donations to support my YAV year. Here is the link to my page on the official YAV website: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/yav/courtney-lauver/

Click “Support Courtney”  but make sure you are indicating my name clearly when you contribute.  If someone donates to this ECO number right now (with my name in the memo section), the received funds will be recorded under my name.

This fundraising method is not ideal, as 12% of your donation will be used as a handling fee.

Thank you for your generous support!

Thank you so much for your generous support.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11

I apologize for neglecting my blog since January. Especially because I have so many pictures of adorable children that I have kept from you!

Since January at Encore, we have had a Mardi Gras parade, where the kids made their own masks and floats and marched in a parade around the school, complete with throws (beads and gifts that are thrown into the crowd).

T and D Parade

 

I watched them learn and get excited when they understood a new concept. Here’s a video of second graders getting excited because they got a perfect score on a class quiz:

I tested every second grader on two different reading tests to see how many levels they had improved and determine if they were  ready for third grade. In one test every second grader had to read me a short book and answer comprehensive questions about the story. If they passed a book they read another one until it became a challenge. It was so exciting for them because I got to tell them how smart they were every time they grew a level. But sometimes it was frustrating for me because I heard the same stories over and over and second graders…read….very….slowly…

Colby

Second grade made their own cookbook. Every kid picked a recipe and hand wrote it out and edited it so it could be almost perfect. They took pictures where they dressed up like a chefs. The book was published into hardcopy books and they are very cute. The kids in the homeroom I worked in signed my copy like a yearbook. I’m keeping it forever.

Chef Lexiey

Second grade went on field trips for a week while the older kids did state testing. We went to a roller-skating rink where I saw them on the best behavior I’ve ever seen. They helped each other (and me) up when they fell, the held hands as they went around in circles. There were no fights and no screaming. It was like magic. We also went to a space museum and a insect museum that were a little less organized and a lot more crazy.

 

space trip

Butterfly Makhai

We had another Family Friday where the kids performed for their parents what they had learned in their theatre, music and dance classes.

Family Friday

I watched them fall apart hilariously and annoyingly towards the end of the year. They just went crazy and did whatever they felt like doing. Some were more outgoing than others, like these kids who felt like dancing instead of singing. Keep in mind, this is at breakfast…first thing in the morning…8:30.

 

And finally, I said goodbye to the kids I came to love so much. I had spent all year building relationships with these second graders and I came to enjoy them as people rather than just little kids. I spent time getting to know them. I know what they like and dislike, how most of them respond best when they are acting out, what makes them laugh, and, for some kids, things that make their lives difficult. I felt emotional connections with so many of these kids and it was hard to say goodbye.

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Some were harder to say goodbye to than others…

Bri no name

Ta'Ron

There were a lot of tears (all from me) leading up to the last day of school. Of course I’m going to miss them, but I also feel bad sometimes for leaving. I was in their lives for only a short amount of time and now I’m done. My time is up. And if these kids remember me, I’m afraid they’ll only remember how I disappeared after a year. I’m doing my best to remember the good things I did this year. I helped quite a few second graders with their reading and according to a couple of kids that I asked leading questions to, I was a nice teacher. I hope and pray that that’s how they’ll remember me. And I pray they will remember me that way for as long as I’ll remember them. This has been the most difficult and rewarding year of my life and I will never forget the experiences I have gained here at Encore.

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So what’s next? This summer, Jean and I are working in the office at the school helping with data entry and organization for next year. In August I’ll go home and have a month to spend with my family before …wait for it…a second YAV year! I will be returning to New Orleans for a second year of volunteering, but at a very different site placement. I will save details for when I have more, but here is the website for my site placement next year: http://www.edenhousenola.org

Please pray for all the children in this country and around the world who have difficult lives. Children whose parents don’t pay enough attention, or who live in unsafe homes, or who can’t communicate what they need except through screaming. Pray for those children who need God’s arms wrapped around them because they don’t have anyone on Earth who will hug them. And send people like teachers who will love them as much as God does. And pray for me and my housemates as we discern our next steps in life and embark on new adventures and challenges.

I’m Like Hey, What’s Up, Hello

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. –Romans 12:2 (NLT)

My environment in New Orleans is different than any I have lived in before in more ways than one. Even living in the YAV house feels a lot different than what I am used to. I spend most of my time in close proximity with seven people and when you’re that close all the time, people start to rub off on you. I’ve been getting used to the culture of New Orleans too, and I am embracing the culture more and more every day. New Orleans is a bigger city with different food, different music, different people. In general it’s louder than what I am used to, especially in the school where I work where the culture of New Orleans is just as prevalent, just presented through small children. Compared to my first week here, I have learned a lot about my new city’s culture and acquired some new interests.

The other day, I was keeping an eye on the second graders while they played a game in their French class. They were playing a memory game matching English and French numbers. As they flipped cards over, the teacher would say the number out loud. On one turn, the teacher shouted out “seventeen,” and a kid immediately sat up on his knees and yelled at the top of his lungs, “seventeen thirty-eight!” And I couldn’t help but laugh. I told my housemate/co-worker this story when we got in the car to go home, and she laughed too. Then she told me there would be no way I would have laughed at that four months ago. And I realized she was right.

The second grader was referencing a popular hip hop song by a young gentleman known as “Fetty Wap.” It’s a song that children should probably not be listening to, but it’s mainstream hip hop and millions of people enjoy the song. However, if I had not signed up to do a year of service in New Orleans with the particular group that happened to volunteer with me, I probably would not know that song, or any of the other popular hip hop songs I now listen to regularly. I was a self-proclaimed hipster, who only listened to classic rock and indie music. But because of my housemate, and the kids, and the city, I now listen to and enjoy more music and food than I ever would have even tried before coming here. I am learning and growing here in more ways than one. I can’t wait to see what other surprises this year has in store.

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Unrelated: here’s a picture of the lady YAVs  before going out for my birthday this past Saturday. In NOLA dollar bills are pinned to birthday people, and others are supposed to add to it throughout the night. I ended up with $5!