Photo: John Brooks
When 37,000 ELCA teenagers descended upon New Orleans in July 2009, the city welcomed them with open arms.
The Lutheran teenagers, along with adult chaperones and other volunteers, came from all over the United States as participants in the ELCA Youth Gathering. They were there to serve a city battered by both weather and the economy.
“The people of New Orleans deserve all of our help,” said Reba Burkett, a high school student from Verdon, Neb.
During the three-day event, participants donned bright orange T-shirts and braved the exhausting heat and humidity to work in nearly 200 community service sites.
The city was effusive in its expression of gratitude. Mayor C. Ray Nagin issued a proclamation declaring July 24, 2009, “A Special Day of Honor” for the ELCA.
At a news conference in New Orleans East, Nagin stated, “We have had so many volunteers from around the country and around the world, but for some reason your presence here is different, special and takes everything to the next level.”
In Joseph Brown Park, youth and adults worked to remove debris left from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, four years earlier. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, was an enthusiastic volunteer at the event.
Maryland teenager Amber Fletcher, 15, was amazed at the impact that the young Lutherans had on the Crescent City.
“We made a huge difference,” she said with an ear-to-ear smile. “(We) reminded (them) to have hope because people still cared.”