The Fault in Judging a Book by its Cover: Swamp Base Story by Nasia Woods

In the days leading up to my first adventure crew trip, I began doing my typical pre-trip research. Yet, the more I read about Swamp Base, the more pictures I saw, the more questions I asked, and the hotter the Louisiana summer got left me deeply pondering “What the heck did you get yourself into Woods?” I’m not really a big fan of the outdoors, I tend to have a few germaphobic tendencies, not to mention how truly out of shape I am — I started contemplating loopholes in my commitment. Alas, considering character traits I hope to stand by, backing out wasn’t an option.

When we arrived at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to begin the training portion of our trail, I had the pleasure of meeting a few members of a boy scout troop that had just completed the adventure. The first three, a man and two teenage boys (whom were all caucasian) happened to share their semi-rosy picture of their journey. Just before I fully regained confidence in my ability to complete this excursion, I met a middle-aged physically fit African American male who had also just returned from Swamp Base. 

I’m sitting in the lobby with my gear, waiting for the rest of my team to arrive for our final meeting of the night when the man approached me. Looking at my two packs, he began pleading with me to lighten my load before we left out early the next morning. “If I were you, I’d drop that big bag and condense everything you have into that little bag (aka turn 60lbs of gear to 20lbs). With that much stuff, your canoe is going to sink. There’s no way you can paddle with that much weight. I had half your gear and my son and I could barely move. But if you're anything like my wife (which I must be), you're not going to listen (I absolutely did not), and you’ll regret it in the morning (I did eventually regret not packing an extra pair of shorts).”

With sweaty palms and the taste of fear climbing up my throat, I asked him about his experience.  He said with a sincere look of disgust masked on his face, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! I barely made it out. I begged the medical team to take me off, but they refused. We even had an ex-marine with our group and he struggled the whole time. If there’s anyway to get out of going, I’d suggest you do that now”. As he was expressing his final sentiments, our students began exiting the elevator. The slender man took one look at my team and chuckled “That’s who you’re going with? This kind of stuff isn’t made for us (black people), this is white people [insert explicative]”. And with his final words ringing loudly in the back of my head, he got on the elevator my crew just exited and went on his way.

Fast forward four days and five nights and we are heading into our final day of the trail. By this time, I’ve managed to get sick and experienced way more mosquito bites than I thought were possible being drenched in 30% deet; however, the pride in my-scratch that- our accomplishments deeply outweighed the pain we were currently experiencing. Our crew, the urban outreach group from Opelousas have been dominating the trail. The number of times we had to stop to swim, nap, and hang out in the shade due to being so far ahead of schedule became ambition to continue paddling harder. We were our own competition. Storms, waves, heat, nor winds could stop our drive. Everyday we worked harder than the day before. I watched our group encourage and support one another. We suffered together. But, we also rejoiced together. Our community grew on that trail, and our confidence followed.

Finally, we reached our goal. 61.6 miles under our belt, and the right to shout “We conquered the Swamp!” As we returned to the room that I had that awkward encounter just five days prior for our badge ceremony, I shared the story with our team of the man who didn’t believe. On that day, (thirteen) African American young people “Conquered the Swamp”. This was a group that looked incapable to many. An urban outreach group that many had low expectations of. Some who worried we’d possibly be the worst group to take the trail. I’m so grateful that the cowardly man came to speak to me on our first day of Swamp Base, because he afforded me the opportunity to share with our kids a real life example of the fault in judging a book by its cover. I hope our team learned that some will say because of their life circumstances, lack of money, schools they attend, neighborhoods they live in, whatever cards they've been dealt, they cannot achieve success; but so long as they have an understanding that suffering will happen, quitting is not an option, and live with a mindset for victory, they can challenge those stereotypes and dismantle negative opinions of them by proving some of the best novels ever written have broken covers. 

After the Flood: A Reflection by Executive Director Loren

One thing that you learn living in Louisiana is that weather is the great equalizer. Weather doesn’t care what neighborhood you live in, the color of your skin, or if you’ve been in church or the bar lately. 

It also has a way of teaching us we are all equal. Making those of us not affected by the devastation grow in empathy for those that are. When these times are upon us in Louisiana we get to see the best in each other while working together to overcome the worst of times.

As schools were canceled many students in Opelousas were excited to sit at home and enjoy the time off.  Learning about the devastation surrounding our parish and region I told a group our High School students I wanted to go and help. Without hesitation they said they wanted to come. I told them to organize a text message and see who wanted to come that we would meet at 8:00am and I wouldn’t wait around for them.

The next morning 10 of our students arrived on time and worked eagerly serving families that lost everything in the flood. As we walked carrying the soggy belongings of our neighbors to the street, strangers turned into family and we felt for a moment what our brothers and sisters were experiencing.

Each evening I would offer the option for our kids to come again in the morning. But, only if they wanted to work. And, each day they came. Five days in a row they served. And each day they were an encouragement to everyone, even inspiring friends to come and help. 

Many people look at today’s generation with disdain. I look at our students with Hope. And that’s what the families felt when our kids served at the moment of their greatest need. To see our kids have that experience knowing that it will stay with them for the rest of their lives makes me proud. And, it helps me believe even more that Love Changes Everything.

Photos from the Daily World article which can be found here.


Adventure Crew - Meet Taij

Tiaj Malveaux: Adventure Crew Member

By: Kristina Anderson 

Tiaj is a Sophomore at Opelousas High School.  This is Tiaj’s first Adventure Crew trip!

What has been one of your most memorable experiences with Adventure Crew? “The training because it was tough and hard for me because I wasn’t used to all the running.”

What are you looking forward to the most about your trip to the Grand Canyon? ”The sight of the beautiful Grand Canyon in the fall and the experience I will get from going.”

What do you think is going to be the most difficult part of the trip for you? ”Being high in the air and the long trails we will have to walk.”

What have you learned about yourself from being a part of Adventure Crew? ”I can push myself far and I can take pain better.”

Testimonial: Meet Matthew

Matthew’s Story:  HFO Kid, 2008

by: Loren Carriere 

Before I had ever met Matt I got a phone call from his dad. Matt’s dad was living in New Mexico and had been in prison for several years. When he heard about the possibility of Matt coming into our program, he found a way to call me and begged me to let Matt get in. At the time we were full, but it was obvious that I needed to do everything in my power to find a way to make things work to get him in.

That was three years ago, and I have never questioned that decision once. Matt will likely win either the Most Likely to Succeed award or the SweetHeart award his senior year of High School.  He is one of the hardest working students that comes to HFO and definitely one of the most genuinely loving. This work ethic was probably passed on to Matt by his mom.

Matt’s mom is like many of the moms of our kids. She has had a tough life and wants Matt to have a better shot then her, her brothers, and his dad. She pushes Matt hard and is working as hard as she can to keep him from falling into any of the traps that are set for him growing up in the Hill Neighborhood.

Matt is the oldest of four boys and his youngest brother has down syndrome. He lives with his mom and stepdad and often plays the role of the big bro, helping get groceries, feeding his little brothers, and making them get to bed on time.

For Matt HFO is less about desperately needing help with school work, but more about desperately needing a place belong. The streets of Opelousas are a hard place to grow up, and fitting in usually requires failing school, fighting for your street cred, and getting involved in the dope game. HFO has become a safe environment for Matt to make friends and for his unique gifts to get fanned to flame.

On our last Adventure Crew Trip to Colorado, we happed to be traveling through New Mexico and were able to stop to have lunch with Matt’s family. His dad had recently been released from prison, and Matt was able to see his dad for the first time in 5 years. This was probably the most emotional moment on our trip. After a 2hr visit we had to be on our way. I watched every kid in our van cry with Matt as we left his family. What a beautiful twist in the unfolding story of us getting to know Matt.

Last week we attended the South Street Elementary 6th Grade Graduation of which Mr. Matt Sanchez was the Master of Ceremony! He did a fine job officiating the ceremony and looked good doing it! He graduated with Honors and a 3.33 cumulative GPA.

Because of the adversity Matt has overcome in his short life, I know without a doubt he will go on to do great things!! Remember the name Matthew Sanchez!