NEW ORLEANS - They haveinvaded the city by the thousands, crowding crosswalks and swarming sidewalks.
But it's no vacation for the thousands ofyoung people who havecome from across the country. Each of them paid their own way to be here, and did so with an abundance of enthusiasm, and a great deal of guidance from above.
"Where else could we go? This is where where we were called. This is where we're going to go," said Donna Wiegel, the assistant director for the youth gathering.
The teenagers are with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Their program: Jesus, Justice and Jazz. Their mission: Bring back New Orleans.
"There are people out there who care, who will help. We like to besome of thosepeople," said 15-year-old Mark Olsen, a volunteer from Nashville, Tennessee.
In the next four days, the young people will clock more than 250,000 hours of community service and complete 154 recovery projects in the New Orleans area.
"These are the ways our young people will learn how to live in the world, and they will take that back home with them," said Wiegel, explaining the purpose of the program.
A church group fromNew Jersey got a head start on their contributions, Tuesday in Slidell.
"The house was torn down. The frame was there but there wasjunk allin it," said volunteer RosemarySaal. "We tore it down, threw the junk away, and cleared it out."
BetweenThursday and Sunday, more than 37,000 volunteers from the group will work with local agencies to renovate parks, paint schools, help neighborhoods in need, and add some sweat equity to their stirring passion, spreading a message through their motions, to help make life better for residents.
"It feels really good afterwards to come home all sweaty and dirty," said Saal. "We earned this grime . We worked heard to get this sweat on us and it felt good."
The teens say what they earn in return is priceless.
"Smiles from everybody, just seeing the look on everyone's faces. There is hope you justhave tofind it," said Olsen.
The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau said this crew is one of the largest conventions the city has ever hosted, and is the largest since the storm.