As November approached, most people had turkey on their minds. I was thinking about gumbo. Between November 10th and 12th, members of Rebuilding Together affiliates from across the country gathered in New Orleans for our National Conference. Most people flew. The three AmeriCorps members in the Twin Cities opted to drive. This decision forced us to confront a lot of big issues: Will our friendship survive? Interstates or byways? What music should we bring? Where is the nearest Waffle House?
We agreed that we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to follow US-61 along the Mississippi River. So, early on Tuesday morning, we rolled out of St. Paul and headed south. During the weeks leading up to the departure date, the three of us had been compiling a playlist of songs to keep us pumped. The final product included cuts by James Brown, The Temptations, Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson, as well as other tunes that would keep us dancing through the entire state of Mississippi – which they did.
We had only two planned stops along the way. The first was St. Louis, where we would spend the night and pick up another Rebuilding Together AmeriCorps member. The second was Memphis, mostly for the music and barbecue. And boy, Memphis did not disappoint. We found a place where – for $3.85 – I got what was perhaps the best pulled pork sandwich on the planet. After spending the afternoon walking around Beale Street, we piled into the car and continued on our way.
We pulled into New Orleans late Wednesday night, and the next morning we made a bee line for Café du Monde and beignets. After eating our fill of deep-fried dough covered in approximately three pounds of powdered sugar, we headed back to the hotel for the start of the Conference. We tried to split up, so that we could attend as many different sessions as possible. Some of the topics covered at the sessions I attended were engaging the faith-based community, lessons learned from the recovery efforts in New Orleans, rebuilding a neighborhood, and my personal favorite, service learning as a creative partnership, presented by Rebuilding Together Twin Cities’ very own Dave Christensen and Dunwoody College of Technology’s Heather Gay.
Throughout the Conference, we had the opportunity to meet several special guests, including Mary Landrieu, U.S. Senator from Louisiana; General Russell Honoré, the commander in charge of coordinating military relief efforts in New Orleans immediately after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and Congressman Cedric Richmond, who represents much of New Orleans.
While driving back to Minnesota, we stopped for dinner in a small town in West-Central Mississippi. What appeared to be just another small southern town – with great po’ boys, by the way – was actually the birthplace of one of my childhood idols. It wasn’t until I googled the Town of Leland, Mississippi, that I realized it was the birthplace of Kermit the Frog and Jim Henson. We could have included “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” on our roadtrip soundtrack, and we missed the chance.
All told, we racked up 2,481 miles, 45 hours in the car, and eight states. Needless to say, friendships survived, waffles were consumed, and really great connections were made between affiliates. The next time the AmeriCorps members will be together will be for the work week in Pittsburgh to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. So, tune in next month, folks….
Written By: Alex Rosselli, AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator