Organized through the Center for Student Leadership and Community Engagement, alternative break programs engage students in experiential learning through community service and volunteerism during their fall (Thanksgiving), winter or spring break. The projects the students participate with address issues such as poverty, homelessness, hunger, literacy, HIV/AIDS, education and the environment. The objective of the Alternative Breaks program is to involve students in service projects to learn about the problems of a community they would typically not know about. The goal is for students to take the intensity of the program/experience and transfer the lessons learned to their own community upon their return. We hope students learn how they can become agents of change, make a difference in their community and lead a life of active citizenship.
On January 5th, 2013, 16 UB students headed to the Louisiana wetlands to discover the beauty of the bayou and the rich and vibrant culture of those that call it home. We will be learning about the cultural and ecological history of southern Louisiana and completing community service projects that will increase the long term sustainability of this important region.
Today we traveled from cold and snowy Buffalo to New Orleans. Everything went smoothly as we traveled down the bayou to our home away from home at Bayou Grace Community Services in Chauvin. We arrived just in time to get a tour of the rec center and travel about a mile down the road to Piggly Wiggly to shop for our food for the week. After a hearty pasta meal, we turned in for the night.
Visit Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond and explore the culture of New Orleans. Blog post coming soon!
"Today I saw a dolphin."
Rise and shine, 6:30 A.M, it was vital to get on the road early in order to start our busy day. We got in the vans around 7:30 A.M. and drove to LUMCON, short for Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
Soon upon arrival, we boarded our vessel, the Arcadia, and were off on an adventure into the unknown. Despite the cold weather and wind, the sun rising was a nice view and also kept us warm. We rode for a while, watching the water and were surprised with dolphins at one point swam alongside the boat with us. From then on, Captain Carl took us on a tour of the surrounding wetlands. About an hour or so into the ride, Captain Carl cast a net out behind the boat and we trolled for whatever we could get. We pulled the net up about a half hour later to find a variety of shrimp, fish and organic material. We were surprised to find squid, crab, and puffer fish that were especially neat and probably our favorites. It turns out the flock of seagulls that had been following the boat were not only interested in our catch, but in the small fish and shrimp that the motor churned up as well. We spent a while listening to Michelle, an educator at LUMCON, tell us about what we pulled up and helped her sort the shrimp from the organic material. We turned around at this point and headed back to shore. Once back at LUMCON, Michelle took us on a tour of the facility. We saw some labs, as well as a really interesting library of assorted vertebrates and invertebrates. There was also a room where algae are grown in order to feed fish that were being studied.
Next was lunch. Gumbo today! Some adorable lunch ladies treated us to their homemade gumbo, potato salad, and cake. The food here has been amazing. When we were all sufficiently in food comas, we moved onto a presentation by Diane. She discussed the history of the wetlands and gave us some insight into the work we would be doing in the coming days. It was helpful to hear some scientific reasoning behind the land loss that Louisiana has been suffering from and how we were going to help it. We found that we will be involved in restoring natural marshes that will serve as barriers to future storms.
After the presentation, we thanked the members of LUMCON for an educational and fun day on the water and headed out to the Kenny Hill Sculpture Garden. That was a particularly neat piece of Louisiana culture that we were able to see. Mr. Hill used an assortment of rebar and wire covered in concrete to form his sculptures. The theme was an abstract mix of religion and self-portraits. Despite Mr. Hill leaving Louisiana, the Kohler Foundation and Nicholls State University have bought the property and continue to maintain it. It was awesome to think that despite all of the hurricanes, the statues remain nearly all intact.
From there, we drove out to Isle of Jean Charles. This was once home to 300 Native American families and has since dwindled to less than 30 due to land loss and the island being outside the state’s levee protection system. We went inside a small marina for snacks and to relax on the back deck, enjoying the view of the bay. After a short visit, we switched up cars and made the drive back to the community center.
We are here now, waiting for the gentlemen on bicycles to return from Piggly Wiggly with groceries. Tonight is breakfast for dinner!
“Vegetating the ridge”
We slowly awoke and got up at around 6:30. We had a quick breakfast and prepared sandwiches with the help of Bayou Grace. We slowly made our way to the vans to fall asleep in the vans once again for about an hour. When we woke up, we were at the marina to start our day. Captain Joe and Matt from Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) took a group of seven of us to the ridge to start the work. The boat ride was exciting and slightly windy. Joe told us that we may see some dolphins which we all hoped but said that shark were just a common in which were frightened for a bit. We traveled to the Fourchon Ridge to plant vegetation to help prevent erosion of the sand. Matt went through the process of planting while Joe went back to get the next crew of people. By the time the entire group had reached the ridge a great deal of work had already been done. Matt gave a detailed explanation to us that the ridge we were on at one point in time had not existed. It had been created by a partnership with conservation organizations and the Port of Fourchon. It did however help prevent damage to ridges more inland.
Each team had specific jobs in the project that in the end, accomplished the goal in a timely fashion. In addition to our own project, we laid the groundwork for a future project for BTNEP's work. Rushing towards the end, due to change in the beautiful southern weather, we ended up planting about 1000 plants in total. On the way back to the boat, we had the task of trying to push the quad out of the mud that it was stuck in. Once we finally freed the vehicle, we proceeded to the boat without problem. We loaded everything carefully and made sure that everything was well placed. We had precious cargo on the boat which was our lunches and snacks. Joe took the first crew, back to the dock to have lunch with the birds. By the end of the meal, the pelicans that dined with us had about as much of our food as we did.
Once we finished lunch, we loaded all of the gear into the trailer from BTNEP and Joe handed out t-shirts. We took a group picture with the banners from both BTNEP and Bayou Grace. Slightly drenched from wading in the water, we made our way back into the vans to continue our naps. Once again, we woke up in a different place but it was only Bayou Grace. We all piled out of the vans to shower and change into warm, dry clothes. Then we hung out for a while and then got ready to head to dinner. We went to Big Al’s for dinner to try things such as crawfish, oysters, frog legs, alligator and crab. After a delicious meal, we celebrated John’s birthday with a slice of cake and candle for him. We climbed back into the vans to head back for the night.
While heading back to Bayou Grace we enjoyed many different genres of music in which we all tried to sing along even if we did not know all the words. Once we reached Bayou Grace we ran in, dodging the rain. We enjoyed more King Cake ice cream while watching the movie Beast of the Southern Wild. This movie was chosen in particular because much of it was staged and shot in an area that we drove through yesterday so we could relate to it.
After such a successful first day of work we are all excited for tomorrow to what adventures await us next along with continuing our naps in the van.
“Cajun Style Cribs”
Today’s project consisted of recycling old Christmas trees in man-made “cribs” along the Intercoastal Waterway. Community member’s participation was through their donation of used Christmas trees, which were then loaded into trucks and hauled to an area of the canal next to the Waterproof Plantation neighborhood. Trees were moved from the enormous piles closer to the bank where all of the UB volunteers assisted in loading the trees onto three boats. Two of the boats were from BTNEP, who we had previously worked with the day before and the third being a volunteer from Terrebonne Parish. We split into teams and maneuvered our ways onto the loaded boats and made our way out to the location of the cribs. Upon arrival at the crib sites, we then placed each tree, one by one, into the containers.
The idea behind this method is to create a barrier from which suspended sediment in the water hits the trees, therefore slowing down and ultimately reducing the loss of sediment further down the waterway. It also acts as a barrier to help break up the wave action from barges, storms, etc.
After breaking for lunch, with pizza and king cake, we quickly piled up the last of the trees and finished the task at hand. Our total tree count for the day was over 250. A great sense of accomplishment was felt from all participants and it was then time for a much needed adventure to break up the day.
With the weather still cooperating we made our way to Bayou Black where we were treated to an experience on the bayou with the “Cajun Man.” The trip consisted of a tour throughout the bayou and privately owned swamp. Cajun man blessed us with some knowledge of the area, as well as an exciting display of authentic Cajun music on his guitar and homemade accordion. He knew the ins and outs of the bayou, even taking time to show us some of the alligator friends he has made over the years. We were greeted by a friendly six-foot alligator named “Mojo” who was looking for a snack. Unfortunately, Cajun man (aka Ron Guidry) didn’t have his usual supply of chicken but still managed to have Mojo put on a brief show. We headed back to the marina, still spotting many eagles, gators and gulls.
With no time to spare, everyone scrambled to get ready for our community dinner. We made our way to Dulac Community Center where we sponsored a dinner event for the members of Terrebone Parish. The community members seemed very grateful that we put the event together. With all of us behind the tables, our preparing began. Everyone moved to the stations, pouring soda, organizing plates, and prepping food. The short opening from one of the head members in community and a blessing, dinner was served. As people finished the meal, a researcher from LUMCON gave a short presentation regarding some current research on the post BP oil spill catastrophe that occurred a couple years back. Members of the community did not seem to have much interest in asking questions following his presentation, rather they were concerned with where their money was and what was going to happen. He said his “thank you” and the dinner was over. We all worked together to dissemble the tables and chairs that had been set up. A few more group shots of us all in are new Bayou Grace Volunteer T-Shirts were taken, and it was back to the Rec Center. After a fun-filled day, all that was left to do was a brief reflection, which everyone seems to find amusing and settled in for the night.
“72 degrees with a chance of Tornado”
Today’s scheduled project was changed due to the weather forecast. We began to receive heavy rainfall early this morning which would eventually land us in a barn at Nicholls State University.
Our task was to split thousands of grass plants in half in order to transplant them out in the bayou. We began leveling soil out in the small planters and then moved the grass samples into their individual pots. Using this method we were able to effectively double the number of plants that we began with. These plants will be used by BTNEP in the upcoming months to protect various marsh lands throughout the area.
Each student had the opportunity to play a different role in the process. After planting for the better part of 5 hours, we decided to take lunch in the farm’s sugar hut. We then moved the plants to their new home in an outdoor cultivation sight. Then we busted open the hoses and washed the mud off that had been joining us throughout the day.
We came back to the community center after an exhausting day of work. We spent some time relaxing, many of us napping, when we were awoken by a surprise. Liz and Jim had decided to take us to the mythical Sonic, for good food. The staff of Sonic didn’t know what to do with our group of 18! On our ride home we had another surprise when we stopped at the Dollar General. Our goal, to pick out an item under 5 dollars that represented our time here in the wetlands.
We concluded the night with some discussion and an arts and crafts period. We had to create “Warm and Fuzzies” for each of the group members. These were compliments and memories we shared with each individual group member. We then had to drop our notes into each members designated bag to be opened after the trip is over. The group ended the night by making signs for a Bayou Grace campaign. They represented our reasoning for saving the Louisiana coastline. We are going to take pictures with our cards tomorrow for the Bayou Grace website.
Today was a very busy day, and we woke up to heavy rain. We were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to do the work we were supposed to do as we had originally planned to work on water. When we got to the banks, we had to take 2 boats to get to our staging area on Lake Fields. Once we were there, Matt and Joe told us all about cut grass and how their roots were great for keeping and holding soil together.
Because of the rain, the surrounding water level of the lake was almost the same as that of the campsite, and parts of it were slightly flooded. Jim actually got his shoes very wet because he underestimated the water’s height. The rain also hindered the amount of harvesting done on land because it was dangerous to stand on the banks, and we could have fallen in!
We then split into 2 groups—one group stayed at the campsite to harvest the cut grass that was growing there (carefully). The other group got onto the boats to pick up cut grass along the river that was free floating. We had to then bring the cut grass to a tub, so that they can grow before being planted at a later date.
The task required us to plunge our hands in the water to grab the floating plants and their roots. We were initially hesitant as we weren’t sure if all the alligators were indeed hibernating. Emily was afraid she might fall in, because who knew what the murky water held. We also got slapped in the face by the long pieces of grass. Cut grass, like its name, cuts skin really easily, especially when one slides his/her finger along the blade of the plant. The cuts are worse than paper cuts. So you can imagine how we could look like now if our reflexes were not quick enough. Liz on the other hand got plenty of abrasion marks on her wrists.
After round one, the land and boat groups then rotated positions. As the land group did a very good job of harvesting as much cut grass as that campsite had, the original boat group was left with nothing much to do. So they played fun team bonding games to pass the time. We played games such as Ninja and finger counting.
When the other group got back, we took the boats back to the dock. There we broke for lunch, and we took pictures of all of us holding up hand-made placards saying why the wetlands should be saved. This is so we may spread the word to others about how important it is to preserve coastal Louisiana.
The rec center was our next stop. We got ready for dinner and for some Cajun dancing!
Dinner was at 1921 Seafood, which was great! The only letdown was that we could not sit as a whole team and had to be split up into different tables. The food was amazingly delicious though, so we didn’t really mind.
When we were done eating, we walked right to the Jolly Inn for some good ole fashion Cajun Dancing. When we first got there it was a little slow but things picked up quick. So many people were dancing with the washboards and making a lot of noise. Looking around, it was great to see that everyone looked so happy. The old guys were so cute when they tried to teach us how to do all of the dances. When we were done at the Jolly Inn we had a surprise stop at an ice cream parlor. We got three quarts of ice cream, plus the king cake ice cream that we already had! After this stop we headed home to eat the ice cream and to begin packing up and cleaning.
Although everyone was rather tired from our long day, we had a final group reflection because it was our last night in Louisiana. Our overall experience with this trip was positive because everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves. We have learned so much about Louisiana and believe we had an impact on the future of THE CAJUNS!!!!!!!
Rachel & Emily
Travel back to Buffalo!