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Atheists to the Rescue: Changing Misconceptions and Rebuilding after Katrina


University of Illinois Campus Crusade for Christ and Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers

Spring Break Trip 2008
(Learn how to organize your own service trip with our service trip activity packet.)

"Being around a group of people of antithetical beliefs while working toward a common goal was
both rewarding and fun: rewarding because we were able to put our differences aside to help
the cause and fun because there was never a dull moment in conversations."

-Peter Ho, member of AA&F

My name is Ashley Carter and I was one of the members of Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers (AA&F) who helped plan this wonderful trip. Our groups' involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) actually began long before that trip. In Fall 2007, the two groups held a joint panel discussion regarding various religious and secular issues. The panel went really well and we continued to network with Cru by attending each others' weekly meetings and by joining forces again that spring to hold a very successful blood drive. After building this rapport between the groups, one of the Cru leaders invited us to send some of our members on a spring break volunteering trip to New Orleans. From our experiences with the group, we knew this group was honestly interested in getting to know our members (many of their panel questions were focused on this, instead of more divisive issues) and that they would in no way be imposing or proselytizing to us. As outreach chair, I was in charge of helping coordinate this trip. So first, I began by announcing the possibility of this joint trip at one of our weekly meetings, and the response was very positive. Thus, I began planning. The positive relationship between these two groups allowed us to benefit from all the national and local planning that had been done by the staff of Cru. I still had to plan out funding and transportation for our members, but after that, our members simply had to sign up for the trip online and show up on the day of departure.

AA&F was able to send eleven of its members on the trip and Cru sent nineteen. Though some members of our group may have been a little apprehensive at first, from the very morning we left, we could tell the trip was going to be very successful. Even at 5 a.m., the Cru intern, Kate, cheerily introduced herself and offered us banana cake. She readily volunteered to share a room with the three female members of AA&F, too. She was very open and interested in getting to know all of us.

"It was refreshing, and I admit, a bit surprising initially, to be able to talk to one another so openly, honestly, and respectfully
about that one another believed. I loved being able to room with of the girls of the AA&F group and I remember one of the first
night there being able to stay up talking comfortably and naturally about our views and past experiences concerningreligion,
spirituality, morality, science, etc. I learned from each of them, and I appreciated the mutual acceptance we had for one
another, despite the fact our views and beliefs differed."

-Kate Olson

In New Orleans, we were split into three different groups. The "skilled" group consisted of those of us who had experience in building houses. They got to work directly with some home owners whose home was flooded and wind-damaged in the storm. They helped lay a wood floor and use power tools:

They might have worked a little harder than the rest of us, but it was worth it.

The home owners were so thankful they cooked all the volunteers in
that group chicken on the last day:

Another group cleaned up a back yard. Here you can see the home owner, Ella May, is very happy about that:

We also did various work on brand-new houses. This included painting, electrical, and putting up fences.

One of the days we got a special chance to work with the animals that were affected by Katrina. We worked with an animal shelter that helped collect the animals and find homes for them. After the storm, people spray painted on houses once they were searched. This way, they wouldn't have to be searched again. Sometimes the spray painters included information about the home's pets.

We really enjoyed volunteering, but getting to know the members of Cru was great, too. In society, it often seems taboo to discuss issues of religion, especially when one knows there are very different viewpoints present. However, in our unique situation, everyone was open to discussing these controversial topics. There were discussions on evolution, religion, libertarianism/liberalism/conservatism, public policy issues, what happens at each groups' respective meetings, and much more. Some of the members in our group had been formerly religious. For these members, the personal interaction with members of Cru helped to quell some misperceptions about religious people. For example, one girl was apprehensive about rooming with Cru members at first, but after the trip she actually socialized and had deeper friendships with some Cru members than anyone else did from our group.

But for some of us who grew up in secular/agnostic/atheist families, it was a particularly interesting and educational experience.

"I found that because one Cru member viewed people in a different way, she had a very different way of dealing with them than I did. She was one of the leaders of the Cru group and it was interesting to me the way this vie manifested itself in her leadership style. Because she viewed everyone as 'God's creatures,' she was always inclusive and ready to get to know all types of people. After meeting her, I reevaluated myself and my actions. I think anytime aperson can make you do that, it is a meaningful experience."

-Ashley Carter, member of AA&F

Obviously, not all discussions were so serious. Many of us connected with each other due to other interests and attributes: majors, travel, home towns, games/sports, etc. Conversations started as we worked with each other on the volunteer projects. Then, as we all got more comfortable with each other it made for some goofing off and interesting memories like paint fights and baseball with sticks:

We had a lot of fun together outside of volunteering, too.

At breakfast:

At dinner:

Riding bikes:

and at our 'Jam Session':

Even with all this fun, Ricky Korzekwa had a different favorite part:

"The whole trip was pretty awesome, but particularly because
we had a dance party on the shoulder of the interstate,
and then we had another one in an ice cream parlor."

But alas, after a week of hard work and a lot of fun, we were all very tired:

The trip turned out to be successful in so many ways: personal connections, unique experiences, and overall fun. Our networking with Cru increased, with more of each group's members going to the other group's meetings, plans for what activities we can do next semester, and even a New Orleans reunion game night and dinner with N'awlins-style jambalaya. This networking not only made this trip and many of AAF's events more successful in the past year, it made our group more prominent and respected. Other religious groups asked to do joint events with us in the future, and we were even asked by the school newspaper to give our opinion of one of Cru's events.

The whole group getting ice cream:

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