Kids + Teens

Celebrating the Spirit of New Orleans 10 Years After Katrina

In the years following Hurricane Katrina, I traveled to New Orleans a number of times with groups of teen volunteers. Working with local non-profits and community organizations, we helped with the cleanup and recovery. While there, we met so many inspiring individuals who shared their stories of survival and perseverance.

marvelous-cornelious

The words and art of Marvelous Cornelius aim to capture their unshakeable spirit and the wondrous energy of the Crescent City.

Jackson Square

Phil Hanging from Sign

On our first trip to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, our group of thirteen teenagers stayed in an abandoned warehouse with no running water and intermittent electricity. We referred to the entranceway as the “Fear Factor Foyer” because of the cockroaches and rodents we had to pass on the way in.

EPSON MFP image

We shared one outdoor shower with 87 other volunteers, but it wasn’t exactly a glamorous outdoor shower. It was a makeshift plastic stall and a FEMA tarp.

EPSON MFP image

Like Cornelius, we saw the destruction firsthand and understood the cleanup was up to us. The volunteers would be the ones to do the work no one else was wanted to do, no one else was willing to do.

MC_Int_Just like he did

Yellow T

Crowbar

On one trip, we had thirty-five New York City public school teen volunteers. We traveled around in what we called “The Magic School Bus.”

Blue Bus

The retired bus was missing more than half of its seats. So we sat and slept on top of one another like puppies.

On the bus

Our blue bus appears in some of the paintings in Marvelous Cornelius.

MC_Int_Bus

We worked most of the time, but we were in New Orleans. We weren’t missing the culture. The French Quarter is known for its street performers. We were entertained whenever we went out there.

Sitting on his corner of Royal and Toulouse, Grandpa Elliot sang for our volunteers several times.

Grandpa Elliot

Grandpa Elliot is visible in several of the paintings. See if you can find him in this one:

MC_Int_Grandpa Elliot

Of course, we enjoyed the music. We made our own—in front of a church on Alabo in the Lower Ninth, by the levee at the King’s Plantation in Algiers, and on the back of pick-up trucks. We listened to bands at all different venues.

EPSON MFP image

Marvelous Cornelius music in the streets

We also enjoyed the food. New Orleans is all about the food. We sampled a lot of it—sno-balls, gumbo, beignets and crawfish. We learned to eat crawfish the correct way.

Beignets

Crawfish and Corn

Most of all, we learned about community, and we learned about ourselves. We learned that everyone has something to contribute. Everyone has value.

Phil Bildner

Phil Bildner is the author of numerous children's picture books and the cocreator of Sluggers, the New York Times bestselling middlegrade chapter book serial. He lives in Newburgh, New York.

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