Below is a reflection written by Caroline Birdrow, a First Year Bonner, on her time spent in New Jersey serving with Hurricane Sandry relief efforts on the Bonner First Year Service Trip.
By: Caroline Birdrow
Upon learning that my class of Bonners would be going to New Jersey to partake in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, I was overcome with gratitude. As someone who is from New Orleans, this service opportunity struck close to home. During the time of Hurricane Katrina, my family and I had the privilege of evacuating and eventually relocating but never went back to New Orleans to rebuild. We only went to visit friends and family and to witness the damage that had been done to the city. For a long time, I thought that I had received the shorter end of the stick. I had been taken from those I loved and from familiar surroundings. It was not until I spoke with friends who went back to live in New Orleans that I began to feel guilty, guilty for not helping my city get back on its feet. Now, however, I could be a part of a relief effort even if it were not for my own hometown.
To be able to help New Jersey revive its community was an extremely rewarding but difficult experience for me. As I carried a family’s damaged belongings outside of its home and tore down its walls, I imagined that this is what it would have been like if I had returned to New Orleans after the hurricane. I felt as if I were living a possible life of my own as I interacted with the lives of some of the New Jersey residents. Although I felt their pain, I also felt joy because I saw individuals coming together to restore peace and inspire hope.
This service trip truly demonstrated for me a notion inherent in our Bonner work: we are all one community, serving each other. I was assisting a group of individuals who had the same problems and goals that I do. I understood their struggle because I had experienced a form of it myself. What was reinforced for me was the idea that when I serve, I am not looking down but across. I am not secluded from those I serve but am united with them. This experience has made me want to search for the commonalities between those I serve in Rockbridge and myself. Only by doing this will we become stronger and make changes in our communities.