The process of directly installing light bulbs, rain barrels, and gardens in the homes of New Orleanians is such a personal and even vulnerable experience. Demographics and system protocols become a person, with a story, eager to participate in this simple opportunity for home improvement and thus community improvement. I am always surprised at the joy I receive by simply stepping out of my comfort zone and opening myself up to a true encounter.
Children want to tell you stories and show you their toys, the elderly want to share knowledge with young volunteers, and self-employed individuals want to share their wares.
One woman and her daughter told me and a fellow volunteer the story of beginning their snowball business in New Orleans East. While we exchanged their incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs they whipped up beautiful strawberry snowballs for us to enjoy as we finished off our light-bulb route. That same day, an elderly woman taught me all about her garden and sent me home with a cactus that will one day bear fruit, and an ivy to help soak up all the water that tends to stay on my front lawn.
We are able to measure the financial and environmental benefits of our programs, but how do we measure the benefit of an increase in social capital? The power and strength that grows as a community begins to know one another, care for one another, and work together to address its collective issues is surely the greatest achievement of Green Light New Orleans’ programs, though we may never be able to truly quantify it.
Get to know your neighbors by becoming a Green Light Volunteer!