For former Turlock resident Kelli Hall, the moment she first stepped foot in New Orleans, it was love at first sight.
Perhaps it was the mouth-watering food, or the music, or the laissez-faire attitude. Whatever it was, the city has been beckoning her back.
“It's calling me back. And not to party, but to give back to the city that gave something indescribable to me,” Hall said.
Hall got her opportunity to return recently to the Big Easy with 22 other individuals through the One Brick program, a group that provides support to non-profits by providing a network of volunteers. The altruistic atmosphere also encourages volunteers to share their experiences with others in social formats, like meeting at a restaurant after a project is complete.
"One Brick is a local and nationwide volunteering network that takes on different events around the city and organizes volunteers for each event,” hall said. “Through One Brick, I was told by one of the managers about a bi-yearly trip to New Orleans to help rebuild a house in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I had explained my lack of funds to my peers, and was made aware of a nationwide scholarship contest in which I could write a personal statement and possibly help subside some of the costs to go. A month after entering the contest, I found out that I had won one of the 22 spots to go to New Orleans.”
While in New Orleans, Hall and her other volunteers completed several projects to repair a residence severely battered by the historical storm.
“The experience was very bittersweet,” Hall said. “I was honored to be able to provide essential volunteer time and work towards a beautiful new home, but I also knew that I am barely putting a dent in the work that needs to be done overall to help rebuild the city.
“Eight years after Hurricane Katrina, there is still so much work that needs to be done. Just by driving through, you can understand why they have been nicknamed "the city that care forgot.” For every new house that has been repaired or completely rebuilt, there are 10 empty lots or even worse, wreckage left from what used to be a house that hasn't been moved yet. New Orleans still very obviously needs help during its rebirth. I'd expected to get a lot of resentment and animosity from the locals, but instead was met with the utmost respect and encouragement for doing what I was doing. Once I'd experienced that, I knew that it was all worth it. I can't wait to go back.”
When not volunteering with One Brick, Hall works as a certified nursing assistant in San Francisco and volunteers as a food bank manager and through the organization RockMed, which provides medical care at concerts and events in the Bay Area.
“I feel that I was born to serve others, and if I were to die tomorrow, I would die knowing that I lived up to my standards, doing the best I could,” Hall said.