Breaking News
More () »

New Orleans's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | New Orleans, Louisiana | WWLTV.com

Students help clean Chalmette National Cemetery

There's a lot of work that goes into maintaining a cemetery, especially one more than 150 years old. For the past month, a massive cleanup effort has been going on at the Chalmette National Cemetery.

Volunteers from around the United States have given a helping hand, including a group of high school students from Baton Rouge and Cleveland, Ohio.

Cleaning a cemetery isn't your typical vacation. Students said many people told them they're missing out on their break from school.

"Most people are like, 'Paige, you're losing your Spring Break', and I tell them I'm not, I'm gaining it," said Paige Melancon, who is a 17-year-old from Baton Rouge. "I have the most amazing time doing this."

For two days, these girls have dug holes, scrubbed and sprayed headstones and pounded dirt. These girls say there's nowhere else they'd rather be.

"To quote Audrey Hepburn, we have two hands," said 16-year-old, Sara Girard. "One is to serve others and one is to serve ourselves, but I found that when you serve others, it brings a sense of joy and fulfillment, an achievement that you can't find anywhere else."

This group is participating in the H.O.P.E. Project, or Hands-On Preservation Experience. It's a program for anyone of any age to help take care of historic national parks like the Chalmette National Cemetery.

"There's people here from the Civil War, U.S. Color Troops, War of 1812, and much more," said Courtney Amabile. "So for people to care for that history is really important. We've engaged folks from as far away as New Hampshire and California, so just seeing the scope of people who care for this place is really amazing for me."

There are more than 14,000 headstones and about 15,000 additional burials at the cemetery. Each headstone represents a man or woman who, in some way, served our country. These girls here today say they just want to help keep history alive.

"It makes me appreciate things more, and we're helping those who served us," said Melancon. "I know each person has a different story and I just wish I could hear their stories. I appreciate everything and it makes me grateful for those in the past."

The girls said they found a new appreciation for the people laid to rest in the historic place.

"Every person has their own story and every person was somebody's somebody," said Girard. "I feel that's very important. They have families, they've affected our country and each person. That's what's important, their legacy, and this is what they're leaving behind."

Thanks to these girls and about 700 other volunteers, the story of our heroes will continue to be told.

The cleanup ends April 1, but volunteers are always welcome at the park. You can contact the park by calling 504-589-3882.