Seniors had an incredibly powerful first day in New Orleans. After a filling breakfast and meaningful tefillah we hopped on the bus and headed to APEX youth center. An inspiring woman, Lisa, told us her story and how she started APEX.
The youth center is a place for teenagers in one of New Orleans' poorest neighborhoods to gather, play, and see a brighter future. Lisa told us about her neighborhood, Central City, a place where the incarceration rate is 54% and unemployment is at 60%, yet the neighborhood is rich with culture and camaraderie between everyone that lives there. Lisa’s work is so powerful because she really lives out working with the population versus working for the population. Because Central City is a food desert, APEX’s next project is building a cafe with affordable meals and a place for the community to hang out, listen to music, and enjoy great food.
Lisa explained to us that our project for the morning would be cleaning out and prepping their kitchen for commercial use at the cafe. Moved and ready to take action, we headed to the kitchen and began clearing everything out of it. Four hours flew by as we organized utensils, sorted food, folded towels, disposed of unusable donations, and got everything ready to be put back in the kitchen. United as a cohesive team, we brought our well organized food and kitchen supplies into the kitchen and set it up to be ready for use by the cafe. After a well needed kosher pizza lunch break, Lisa led us on a walk around her neighborhood. It was wonderful to be able to interact with the lively and friendly people of Central City.
I loved seeing how Lisa knew everyone that walked by, giving each of them a hug and checking in on how they were doing. I truly saw the holy work she does in this community. As we walked past one block, Lisa asked us to notice a difference between the block we were on and the one to follow. On the second block, the houses were much bigger, grander, and the street looked very well kept. We learned that this was the block that separated the black and white neighborhoods during the segregation era. I couldn’t believe the lasting effects and the horrifying wealth disparity between the neighborhoods that are so close to one another. After returning to the youth center and hearing more about what APEX does, we were so thrilled to learn that we would be going back tomorrow to meet and interact with the high schoolers that benefit from the center.
Inspired and tired, we headed to the French quarter for some free time to shop and eat way too many beignets. Back at the hotel, we laughed and bonded over Rosh (grade representative) led games. We are all ready for a good nights sleep and excited for what tomorrow has in store!
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace their Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.