Brooke Blackwell is a freshman at ROHS. This is her first disaster relief trip.

Sitting in my own house a day after getting back, I can now say that the trip has been one of, if not the, most fulfilling, satisfying, and enjoyable experiences of my life, and is something I can’t wait to do again. Which I suppose says a lot, considering we started off the week with a twenty hour bus drive, about six extra hours than expected due to an unforeseen snowstorm. Twenty hours is long enough, but twenty hours crammed on a bus filled to the brim with teenagers who haven’t showered in a day is a very, very long time. Because of this, we started off Monday late so everyone could catch up on the sleep they missed from the late arrival time of the trip, and when we finally piled our unshowered bodies into the bus to head to the work sites, the bus got stuck in the muddy grass leaving the church parking lot. Eventually, about an hour after, the bus was towed and we were on our way.

The first site my group worked on was a different kind of work than I expected it would be. We were on an older man’s property, cleaning up the area around his actual house. That first short day we picked up glass, metal, wood, and any sort of small type of debris we could fit into buckets to haul down to the curb of the site. But upon working in greater depth on that same site, I realized just how personal this work could be. I felt the same way on the third site I worked at, a wrecked home we cleared up. It was a sad and hard hitting realization that this was someone’s home. It was their life and their sanctuary and I was looking at the wreckage and destruction of it. Shifting through the tatters of the physical imprint of these peoples lives gave me a feeling that I will never forget. But as important as that is, I was also left with the most splendid and beautiful feeling knowing that I had brought about real and actual positive change to those affected by the disaster.

Another one of the new and amazing things I got to experience on the trip was southern hospitality. Seriously, I fully understand that phrase now. We stayed in a pleasant and beautiful church, where I met some of the nicest people I have ever met. Each day upon returning to the church from work (as if them allowing us to stay there wasn’t kind enough) we found a little gift on our mattresses, a bracelet, an ornate metal cross, as a thank you for what we were doing. The church also made us two delicious dinners and a delectable southern style breakfast. It was during one of these dinners that I had the pleasure of getting to know some people from the church. Each and every one of them was warm and welcoming, and I adored being in an environment with them. They also introduced us to a new game; nine square, a solid mix of four square and volleyball, and it became a nightly fun (and highly competitive) activity.

My favorite day of the week, though, was Thursday. We started off that day with our southern breakfast and worked a half day at the third site, which was a farm. We sawed down broken trees in blissfully warm weather until about two o’clock, and soon after headed down to Beale Street in Memphis for our night off. I felt lucky enough to have Mr. Chisnell as my group’s chaperone for the night, who filled us in on some of Memphis’ rich history, which I feel allowed me to appreciate Beale Street as much as I possibly could. We had a grand time. Beale Street was colorful and bright, and music and good smells quite literally poured into the streets. We went into voodoo and music shops, rode in a brightly lit horse drawn carriage, and I had the privilege to eat at BB Kings, where I ate one of the best meals of my life and heard some of the best live jazz music of my life.

Though it was at times hard to endure, the relief trip was one of the best things I’ve ever had the honor to do. I’m so thankful for all the amazing people who helped to make it happen, so we, as a group, could help to do amazing things. I can’t wait for next year.