No matter where I end up in life, Opelousas, Louisiana will always have a special place in my heart. It’s amazing to me that a girl from the far north in Minnesota and people from the deep south in Louisiana could create such strong connections and relationships. I never could have imagined that this small town in Louisiana would be a place I would keep coming back to year after year, but I have found that God’s plans far exceed the expectations one has for their life. The first time I visited was in the spring of 2008 with Northwestern College. Loren Carriere had recently been hired as director of Hope for Opelousas and the group of 20 college students I came with were the first team they had hosted. Being from the Midwest and not having spent much time in the South, this was one of my first experiences with Southern culture and Southern charm. In no way would I have guessed that that specific week and my following visits would have had such an impact on my life.
One of my favorite parts of the week was when we went to the Hill and were simply able to hang out with the kids in the neighborhood. Loren had his guitar, some people put on skits, and then there was a lesson. But this wasn’t the lesson that is typical in a Sunday morning Sunday school class, rather it was one that proclaimed the word of God but also related to the individual lives and situations of these children. You could instantly see what an impact is was already making on them. The best part for me was simply being with the kids. I loved getting to know them and learning about their lives. The week went by in a blur and I knew I would be coming back. I had fallen in love with the kids from Opelousas and wanted to see them grow.
That following summer I was blessed to have the chance to go back for the month of July as an intern. It was an invaluable experience for me. Along with Loren and another intern Corrine, we helped create and set up the after school tutoring program that is used at Hope for Opelousas today. The greatest part of the month was when we put on a week long summer camp for the kids, which included a slip n’ slide, various games and crafts, and a hiking trip in Mississippi.
My life was changed through the short time I spent in Opelousas. I saw God at work in ways I’ve never seen before and I learned so much, not only about myself but about the circumstances others live in and the daily issues they are faced with. Times could be trying, confusing, and things weren’t always easy or smooth, but my experiences was highly valuable and exceedingly priceless. I’ve returned to Opelousas two more times since then and I’ve loved seeing the kids as they’ve grown up and as the organization has evolved into what it is today.
God has used my time in Opelousas to help me truly realize the love I have for youth. Since my most recent visit in May 2010 I went on a six week trip to Ghana, West Africa where I worked in a children’s home. Now I am currently employed as an Americorps member providing an after school program for children living in St. Paul’s low income public housing. I do many of the things in this job that I learned how to do in Opelousas. I help with tutoring, provide educational crafts and activities, take the kids on field trips, and provide a safe and stable environment for the kids to learn and grow. One of the reasons I was accepted for this position was because of the time I spent in Louisiana with the Hope for Opelousas organization. My life has not necessarily gone the way I would planned for myself, but the reality I’m living in now has far surpassed the expectations I once had.