One experience that has impacted my life is visiting Ozanam Inn with the Ulster Project. The Ulster Project is when a group of Catholic and Protestant Northern Ireland teens come to stay with Catholic and Protestant American families for a month. They come over to America to experience the unity between both the Catholic and Protestant faiths, because there is war and segregation between the two in Northern Ireland. Throughout the month that I was with the Irish teens, we did many service projects which drastically changed my character. Through these service projects, I found my love for service and helping others and realized how fortunate I really am.
I was a little hesitant going to Ozanam Inn for the first time because I didn’t know what to expect. When I first got there, all of the teens were excitedly greeted by the volunteers in charge of Ozanam Inn. We first toured the small bedrooms and kitchen, and then were were taken outside where we would be doing our volunteering. There, we were all divided in groups to do different tasks to help the homeless. Some cooked food, some served the food, and some made snowballs as a special treat. I was assigned to serve dinner. There was a long line extending through the gate onto the street. There were all different types of people. There were people in their 20s and then there were whole families with little kids. One by one, the homeless people came by our table and we slopped a huge serving of beans on their plate, their smiles were beaming through their tired eyes.
Every single person was very gracious and thanked all of the volunteers that helped. A lot of people were even very religious and were either saying prayers or said “God Bless You.” It is so heartwarming and rewarding to see the huge smiles on these people’s faces. Immediately, their reactions and thankfulness made me realize that to be happy you don’t need much, you just have to make the most of what you have. I also realized how ungrateful I am of of having the basic necessities of life like food and shelter.
It was sad, but interesting to hear the many stories people share through our short encounter. They described their experiences living in the streets or under bridges and how they got there. Many of them admitted that they got involved with the wrong crowd and got involved with drugs, which is how they ended up living on the streets. Many explained how they were in foster care and left once they were 18, unable to provide for themselves yet. Many even had jobs, but did not make enough money to provide a home or adequate food for themselves. It was sad hearing that so many of them were abused by their parents or partners. Lastly, I realized the importance of community. I had not realized the severity of homelessness in New Orleans before Ozanam Inn. I had not seen the large families and young children that were living on the streets. It made me feel good that I was able to be a part of helping the less fortunate to not only eat, but also help provide them a place to sleep, and shower.
Throughout my entire experience with the Ulster Project, and the many service projects I experienced, I found my love for helping others. It was rewarding to be able to help the less fortunate while also making friendships with the Irish teens. I think that this experience helped build my character and helped me be more understanding of others. I realized how important it is to be grateful for the little things in life and to make the most of what you have. I also realized how fortunate I really am, and the power of community and volunteering. This experience at Ozanam Inn was definitely memorable and I hope to keep visiting very often.