Mitzvah Corps New Orleans

Create lasting relationships while exploring the historic city of New Orleans, learning about the complexities of its racial and socio-economic dynamics, and the ongoing disaster relief that is too often unnoticed. Experience first hand the resilience of this culturally rich and vibrant community, and work alongside individuals and organizations who have taken it upon themselves to restore and revitalize their neighborhoods in uniquely impactful ways.

This program delves into the complexities of disaster preparedness, immediate response, and ongoing relief. Using Hurricane Katrina as a foundation of the experience, participants will explore New Orleans' unique cultural, political, and racial history, learn from a variety of local leaders and residents about the hurricane's immediate and lasting impact on the different communities within the city, and engage in meaningful work with grassroots organizations that are rebuilding and improving not only physical infrastructure, but social services, opportunities for youth, and the energy that defines a culture.

Issue Focus: Economic Justice

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and left in its wake unprecedented amounts of destruction, debris, and human displacement. For the last decade, the disparity in the process of rebuilding the city of New Orleans has grown ever wider; affluent and touristic areas of the city have seen a relatively quick physical renovation, complimented by population growth and economic revitalization, while the lower income neighborhoods and parishes remain abandoned, without basic necessities or community services. Mitzvah Corps New Orleans participants take a deep look at the demographic breakdown of pre-Katrina New Orleans, the political, socio economic, and racial tensions leading up to 2005, and the local and national response in the immediate aftermath, and extended period of rebuilding.

The city of New Orleans is nothing if not resilient, and that resilience is found in the individuals and organizations who have taken it upon themselves to find innovative ways to rebuild, not only homes, but community infrastructure, social services, and the unmatched energy of a community steeped in culture and tradition. On Mitzvah Corps New Orleans, participants will engage with these inspiring voices, using the context of the hurricane to understand both ongoing tensions in the larger city, and to gain valuable lessons regarding racial and social equality through emergency preparedness and ongoing disaster relief.

Social Justice

Mitzvah Corps is committed to providing sustainable support; all of the direct service projects are initiated by local community members, and relevant context is thoroughly discussed. While specific projects vary, as we work in response to the evolving needs of the community, they typically include:

  • NOLA Green Roots builds sustainable community gardens, eliminating food deserts from low income neighborhoods, reducing obesity by producing nutritious food, controlling family food expenditures, and conserving resources.
  • The Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) provides community-based support for area neighborhoods as part of long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts to recreate and repopulate a strong community, mindful of its resources and vulnerabilities.
  • Youth Rebuilding New Orleans (YRNO) engages local youth in the betterment of the community by rebuilding distressed and foreclosed homes, and then reselling them to teachers to positively impact the education system.

Participants will spend time with each organization, contextualizing its importance in the regrowth of the city, participating in the hands-on efforts that needs to be done, and building meaningful relationships with employees, fellow volunteers, and community members as they work together.

Life on a College Campus

Mitzvah Corps New Orleans participants and staff reside on the beautiful campus of Tulane University, located in the heart of New Orleans!

  • Dorm living
  • Use of pool and recreational activities
  • Variety of dining hall and restaurant options
  • Acres of safe, open outdoor space
  • Connection with Hillel and Jewish life on campus

The Vibrant Culture of New Orleans

Each day, participants will have the opportunity to experience the culturally rich and dynamic city of New Orleans, and get a taste of all it has to offer.

Below is our preliminary itinerary. We refine the schedule as we approach each summer to respond to the evolving needs, and take advantage of the most current opportunities, in the local communities.

Days 1-2 – Welcome to New Orleans
Throughout arrival day, participants will be flying into the New Orleans airport, and will be greeted by Mitzvah Corps staff. Once everyone has arrived, the first evening will consist of opportunities to get to know one another, and to frame the experience ahead. The group's first full day in New Orleans will be an interactive tour throughout different areas of the city. Traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood, Mitzvah Corps teens will gain a comprehensive understanding of the proximity of various demographics, from the vibrant French Quarter to the struggling Lower 9th Ward, the real impact of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and the ongoing struggle with infrastructure and water drainage, highlighting tensions between those with differing socioeconomic, and often racial, identities. On Friday evening, the group will join one of the Reform congregations for Shabbat, where they'll gain a Jewish perspective on New Orleans, and southern Jewish life.

Days 3-4 – Absorbing the Culture 
Shabbat and the weekend will include more opportunities to soak in the diverse culture of New Orleans, and continue building relationships with local community members and one another. From visiting the National World War II Museum to sampling beignets at Cafe Dumond, from paddle boating in City Park to celebrating Havdallah at Tulane Hillel, participants will be ready to take on a week of volunteering with a solid understanding of the ways in which the city does, and doesn't, work together.

Days 5-10 – Working Alongside the Community
Each morning, participants will engage in hands-on direct service with local grassroots organizations around New Orleans. At each site, they'll have the opportunity not only to get involved themselves, but to hear firsthand accounts of life in the city, and the personal stories of the people who are dedicating their time and passion to rebuilding its physical structures, community services, and energy. Time each day is spent continuing to contextualize the challenges faced by the city and reflecting on the ways that volunteering supports or hinders sustainable progress. There is also ample time to enjoy New Orleans, visiting the Superdome, exploring the French Quarter, listening to live jazz at Preservation Hall, touring Mardi Gras World, and more! Coming full circle, the final Shabbat will be spent with a Reform congregation, and participants will have the chance to share reflections on their experience with the Jewish community.

Day 11 – Return Home 
Participants will depart from the airport in New Orleans.


How do participants get to and from New Orleans?
Participants who do not live within driving distance of New Orleans should plan to fly in and out of Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY), where Mitzvah Corps staff will be on hand to greet them and transport them back to the program. Detailed instructions on booking transportation will be provided upon program registration. Travel to and from the program is NOT included in tuition.

What if a participant needs to travel as an unaccompanied minor?
Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers Southwest, United, Delta, American, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience. 

Are vaccinations required for participation on Mitzvah Corps?
The Union for Reform Judaism requires that all camp and travel program participants, staff and faculty must be immunized. Medical exemptions are granted in rare cases; please contact us regarding any potential exemptions prior to registration. For more information, please refer to the URJ Policy Statement on Vaccine Status.

What are the physical requirements for participation on this program?
Mitzvah Corps New Orleans engages in volunteering projects that require participants be able to partake in light to moderate physical labor (digging, painting, lifting heavy objects, etc), in the outdoor heat and humidity. The housing and transportation are ADA compliant, and volunteering accommodations can be made for wheelchairs, as well as participants with limited physical capabilities, provided they are able to sustain being outdoors in the heat and humidity. As with all Mitzvah Corps programs, participants are expected to be independent and not require consistent one-on-one care.

Will participants receive documentation of community service?
Yes! Upon completion, participants will receive documentation for 40 hours of community service. Please note that this number is inclusive of all social justice community engagement; participants who are looking to document specific, traditional direct service hours should contact Mitzvah Corps in advance with any questions.

What are the housing accommodations in New Orleans? 
Participants and staff will reside in the dorms at Tulane University. The building and individual rooms are accessible only to members of our group, and the front desk is staffed 24/7 by members of the Tulane security team.

The group will have exclusive use of a dorm building, including common rooms, kitchenettes, and outdoor space, as well as access to many of the amenities on a college campus such as pools, sport facilities, and convenience stories. Most meals will be eaten on the Tulane campus, and there are numerous vending machines and coffee shops for the teens to access snacks throughout the day.

Towels, pillows, and bed linens will be provided for each participant, and laundry facilities are available. 

What kind of clothing should teens bring to Mitzvah Corps New Orleans?
Summers in New Orleans are hot and humid, and participants should expect to spend time both working outdoors, and in air conditioned indoor spaces. Light, comfortable clothing that can get dirty, hats, sunscreen, and close-toed shoes are essential, as well as a waterproof jacket for the frequent summer afternoon rain.

Casual clothing is worn for most of the program, and teens should plan to bring at least one "nicer/professional" outfit that is appropriate to spend Shabbat with a local congregation.

Are there laundry facilities available?
Laundry is free, and can be done at the dorm during afternoon and evening free time blocks. Detergent will be provided.

Mitzvah Corps programs are designed to be mixed and matched, giving you the opportunity to connect two or more experiences to design your ideal social justice summer.

Mitzvah Corps New Orleans connects well with Civil Rights or Costa Rica.

At A Glance

Dates: July 13-23, 2017
Length: 11 days
Issue Focus: Economic Justice
Community Service Hours: 40
Cost: $3400
Register for multiple programs to receive a $100 discount per additional program.
Mitzvah Corps is open to all rising 10th - graduating 12th graders.