30,000 Lutheran youths engage in recovery efforts

Lutheran volunteers paint walls at Sarah T. Reed High School
Lutheran volunteers paint walls at Sarah T. Reed High School

New Orleans, La. -- The city is getting a lot of help with trash pickup, painting and other community projects.  30,000 Lutheran young people are in town to make their mark on the ongoing recovery process.

Hundreds helped to spruce up Sarah T. Reed High School in New Orleans East Thursday, including painting the interior of the school and yard work.

"We're painting the hallways right now and then we're going to go paint some doors," said Harrison Speltz, one of the teenage volunteers in town with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gathering.

"It's just a great feeling to know that you're helping people even though you've never met them before," said Autumn Bornholdt, another volunteer.

An AmeriCorps team leader was overseeing the Lutheran volunteers who were working at Sarah T. Reed. They volunteered at some other schools in the city, as well.

"We're working with an estimated 2,000 volunteers, so we've got 500 a day at each school," said Adam Sievering, of AmeriCorps.

Zane Anderson is a pastor in Minnesota who brought down 31 kids. He volunteered in the city three years ago.

"Actually there's been a lot of progress, but what I've noticed is that there are still a lot of areas that are still in dire need of help," Anderson said.

"I had no idea, you know, we come from a really small town, so it's a big eye opener," Bornholdt said.

"All these little jobs, help, we're basically rebuilding New Orleans, and it's kind of cool to see that in progress," Speltz added.

Having so many extra hands to work on projects is a welcome sight to people who have been coordinating volunteer efforts for months.

"It definitely speeds the process up, and it's impressive to see what can be accomplished in a short span of time," added Sievering.

Across town, thousands of teens took part in various activities inside the Ernest Morial Convention Center.

"When we decided to come back to New Orleans, we knew that we had a special bond with this place," said Heidi Hagstrom, the Program Director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gathering, known as ELCA.

The attendees also were learning skills on how to be peacemakers in their own environment.

"They're learning skills on how to defuse tension when they're in the midst of it, they're talking about how they respond to bullying and making themselves aware of their own bullying," Hagstrom said.

The Lutheran volunteers are to work with 50 local organizations at 400 work sites.