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Young Katrina Survivors Explore Service at Peaceable Kingdom
Peacable Kingdom

May, 2013

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 8 years ago, tens of thousands of students were displaced not only from their homes, but from their schools as well.  After years of struggle and rebuilding, these young survivors have reclaimed their education with an emphasis on service through a charter school scholar program.  Fifty sixth-grade students from KIPP McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts (New Orleans, LA) will visit Killeen’s Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children to put their service skills into action, Monday through Wednesday, May 20-22. 


In the heart of the French Quarter, KIPP McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts is an open-enrollment, public charter school operated by KIPP New Orleans as part of the Louisiana Department of Education’s Recovery School District (RSD). The middle school serves 400 students enrolled in 5th-8th grade, combining a tradition of academic excellence, character building and creative-arts education. KIPP McDonogh 15 was created to provide students returning to a rebuilding New Orleans with an excellent educational opportunity and has been fully enrolled and operational since August 2006.  


The vision of KIPP McDonogh School is to invest in children to be “responsible, thoughtful, and empowered citizens who are enthusiastic about learning, excellent at working with others, and determined to make the world an amazing place,” shared the school website.


Putting classroom lessons into practice, Lauren McNamara, sixth grade teacher at KIPP, organized a group trip and service project at Variety’s Peaceable Kingdom Retreat, a nonprofit organization with a mission to empower children with special needs.


Ms. McNamara further explains, “We teach students the values of character and service, and this trip is for students who have demonstrated those qualities throughout the year, and who are excited to extend such leadership to a new community.  As a reading teacher, I have incorporated books that focus on youth who have illness and must persevere, or who have seemingly insurmountable challenges and rise to defeat them. The mission of Peaceable Kingdom aligns. Most of our scholars come from challenging circumstances, and this is the

only time in the year where they leave the city. The students will benefit from learning about and helping the retreat and seeing how even though they have difficulties at home, they can still make a difference.”


While at the retreat, students will work with retreat staff on exciting service initiatives to prepare the retreat for summer campers with chronic illness.  Students will engage in environmental beautification projects while clearing trails and refurbishing outdoor classroom space.  Young volunteers will also help with repairs, maintenance and cleaning projects. As they work, students will learn how greatly their work will impact Texas children with special needs.


As incentive for their hard work, student volunteers will also have the opportunity to enjoy the recreational activities at the retreat.  Boys and girls can swim, hike, go fishing, learn archery, explore low ropes challenges, and enjoy the mini-golf course and “theater in the woods”.


“We are thrilled about this mutually benefiting opportunity for kids to serve kids,” commented Laura Nickel, program director at Variety’s Peaceable Kingdom Retreat.  “We understand that these incredible students from New Orleans have overcome devastating challenges, and we are humbled by their enthusiasm to serve children with special needs.”


Peaceable Kingdom Retreat is a program of Variety, The Children’s Charity of Texas, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to empower children with special needs. Variety serves nearly 9,000 children and their families annually.  The retreat is located on 120 acres along the Lampasas River in the hill county near Killeen, Texas, and offers environmental education field trips, weekend retreats and summer camps. Discover more at and become a “Friend” at!/VarietyTX.


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