A Lesson on Gratitude

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A personal narrative about the New Orleans mission trip I went on in the summer of 2018. The main portion focuses on the homeowner we worked for, Miss Norma. She was an incredibly humble and grateful woman that had been torn down the countless natural disasters (such as hurricane Katrina) which sent her spiraling into poverty. Yet, somehow her incredible personality remained.

Submitted: October 11, 2018

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Submitted: October 11, 2018



Luke Willis

English III Honors

2nd Hour

A Lesson on Gratitude

Miss Norma has lived in Slidell, Louisiana for almost 50 years. Her impoverished life has been fueled by the countless natural disasters that have ravaged the New Orleans area, such as the infamous Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005 and Hurricane Isaac in August of 2012. She and many other people don’t have the money to recover after these horrific events, which is why hundreds of churches/youth groups visit this area every summer to work for these people. My youth group, Ignite Youth, was one of these groups this summer.

Our group was lead by Colette and Brandon Patton, “Uncle Scott” and Mariah Stanfield, along with about 20 youth. We worked through The Epworth Project, which was set up after Hurricane Katrina in order to help build back the New Orleans community. It was sponsored through a church in Slidell, a suburb of New Orleans, where we ate, slept, and got ready for our mission work. The work site I was assigned to (as well as the rest of the high school students) was at Miss Normas. She was an 89-year-old woman who lived in a trailer home. Our job was to replace her floor. As we began to talk to Miss Norma, she told us that the storm surge from Katrina brought the water up multiple feet into her home. This was immediately present when our group saw the condition her house was in. It was as if her floor had been beaten down by the world, just as she had been. The rotted and water damaged floor squished under our feet as we stepped on it, making us unsure whether it would hold. It was a miracle she hadn’t fallen through yet.

Her floor was covered with a faded light brown vinyl sheet, which we pulled up to start. We expected to get right to a thin, damaged subfloor, considering how weak the floor was. However, there was another main floor underneath. And another.. and another... and another. All of which had to be manually pulled up.

After four to five hours in the harsh Louisiana heat, our group was in desperate need of a break. We were at a good stopping point to take time for lunch. My best friends in the youth group, Hailey, Madi, Alex, our youth pastor Colette, and I took our lunches over to Mr. John’s porch (Miss Norma's neighbor and best friend). Miss Norma and Mr. John were both relaxing in rocking chairs, on either side of the front door. Mr. John’s porch was beautifully decorated with colorful wind chimes and lights strung from the ceiling beams. Without us saying a word, Miss Norma offered to go get us chairs from inside the house. Of course, we declined, but this small action began to show the real Miss Norma. As we ate, we connected with the homeowner that we would be working with for the next week. She told us how she ended up in Slidell and the natural disasters she had endured while there, specifically Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac. Yet, she made sure to highlight the unity of the New Orleans community. According to her, the area only grew stronger through these trials.  We also gained more insight into her family, learning she had a daughter, who would be there the next day.

It was great to get to know her and made the work we did even more important. By the end of the painstakingly slow and tedious day, four layers of floor and the subfloor had been taken up, exposing the support beams. These were not in much better condition than the floor, appearing as if they would disintegrate if we breathed too heavily. We felt horrible leaving Miss Norma's home without a floor, exposed to the outdoors, but time simply didn’t allow for us to get any more work done. This start that should have taken no more than a couple of hours, ended up taking from 8:30 in the morning, until 5:30 at night. Luckily, Mr. John offered her a place at his house.

Miss Norma welcomed us with a surprise on our next day of work. As we were finishing up the last bit of floor removal, she came over and announced she would have lunch ready for us soon. We had not been expecting this at all. We had expected to eat our plain sandwiches and chips that we packed in the cooler. However, half an hour later, she invited all 13 of us into Mr. John’s house. Miss Norma, a woman of very little wealth, had prepared us a huge spread of homemade fried chicken, mac and cheese, salad, and lemon cake. We were absolutely speechless. We had heard of southern hospitality, but this was a step above. She was extremely impoverished, yet still found a way to spoil us in the way she did best, with southern comfort food. Biting into the food felt like the first time I had ever tasted fried chicken. The world seemed to stop and everyone in the room was only focused on the juicy, tender chicken, covered in a thin and crispy shell; the flavor coming from Miss Norma’s incredibly generous heart. We couldn’t even express our gratitude.

With the new energy provided by the incredible food, we continued work on her floor. The trailer’s support beams were severely termite damaged, so we replaced many of those, and reinforced some others with new beams. Then came time to install insulation between every support beam. Colette and I worked on this part together, balancing on parallel beams with the insulation shoved in between. I would go through and staple the side opposite of me, while Colette held the sheet in place, and vice versa. On our last sheet of insulation, an enormously pregnant spider ran across the beam I was standing on. My severe arachnophobia caused me to panic and topple off of the beam I was balancing on, straight into the newly installed insulation, ripping all of the staples out. We all had short sleeve shirts and shorts on so we could brave the Louisiana heat and humidity. However, this posed an issue, as the fiberglass in insulation creates tiny, extremely itchy cuts. When I fell through the insulation, my legs were completely submerged, and I fell in up to my forearms. This made for a very itchy rest of the day. Yet, we still felt great knowing we had put in the first insulation this home had ever seen.

Over the next two days of mission work, we continued restoring Miss Norma’s floor. We screwed down a new plywood subfloor in the living area and leveled it out to prepare for the main flooring to go on top. In the kitchen, we went through the same process as the first two days, tearing up the dilapidated floor and adding insulation. She still found it necessary to feed us these final days. The third day came with fried catfish, hushpuppies and coleslaw. Our last day came with spaghetti and garlic bread. Both were as wonderful as the first meal and both still came with her incredible lemon cake.

When all was said and done, we had given Miss Norma a sturdy floor in her living room and kitchen. We lacked the time to put her main floor on (which was installed by a group in the next week), but she could finally walk in her home comfortably. As we were heading out, a couple of other youth and I found some wood scraps, which we cut and nailed together to form a cross. We had our whole group sign it and presented it to Miss Norma as a going away present. We got a picture with her and Mr. John, hugged, and said our final goodbyes. She began to cry. It was unexpected. A woman who had been through so much was moved by a group of teenagers simply doing the right thing for her. It’s easy to assume she believed her home would never be restored, yet there we were and it all sunk in at that moment. We had given Miss Norma new hope and she had taught us countless lessons about gratitude and humility. Miss Norma is a perfect embodiment of who everyone should strive to be and changed my life and the life of everyone in Ignite Youth.


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