“I tried my very first beignets this morning and fell in love,” wrote Fredericka Tucker, 18, after a visit to Cafe du Monde in New Orleans last summer.
She was in the Big Easy with a group of 15 teenagers and adults who did volunteer work in Magellan Community Gardens, visited the Ninth Ward neighborhood and talked with a Hurricane Katrina survivor. Along the way, they absorbed the culture of the city.
“The history of New Orleans is powerful,” Tucker wrote in the group’s blog.
Another teenager, Gilric Stroman of Aiken, South Carolina, wrote in the blog: “I’ve discovered that knowing our history as African-Americans is important in helping us move forward.”
The trip was led by Mike Weaver, founder of an organization that takes teens and adults on intergenerational service learning trips. Since 2011, Weaver has taken young people from Atlanta and his hometown of Aiken on 11 such trips. About 400 people have participated in travel to various places including Baltimore, New York and Boston.
Each teenager pays $100 at most, Weaver said. He calls the program WeCCAAN (Weaver and Concerned Citizens of Aiken/Atlanta Now). WeCCAAN funding comes mostly from individual donors.
“We do two trips every summer,” Weaver said.
In June a group of 55 went to Miami where they pulled weeds and planted trees at Empower Farms, a permaculture farm that provides opportunities for people who are disabled. The travelers drank freshly pressed guava and sugarcane juice. They also heard a presentation from the founder of a homeless shelter and visited two colleges.
The idea for WeCCAAN began in 2011 when Weaver was teaching environmental health at the University of South Florida and offered to take students to New Orleans to see the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Of the 44 students who went, only 25 had ever been outside Florida.
And Weaver, one of seven children raised by a single mother, credits a high school trip with igniting his desire to go to graduate school.
He intentionally mixes about 34 high school and college students with about 20 professionals and older adults on the larger WeCCAAN trips.
Young and old work side-by-side and develop relationships.
“Young people ask the college students what it’s like to be at college,” he said. Then the college students ask the young professionals for career advice.
“That’s just invaluable,” Weaver said. “That’s part of the magic of what we do.”
The value of intergenerational travel and service work is enormous, he said.
Weaver told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper: “Working side by side, we don’t have time to get lost in our differences. And the beautiful part of it is we can actually talk about those differences across generation, across race, across ethnicity and abilities.”
He doesn’t know of any foundations that fund this kind of service learning travel, he said.
In addition to planning the next trips to the West Coast, he is working on creating a national nonprofit organization to fund such trips.
Weaver, who has worked both in the nonprofit sector and as a college professor, was awarded a 2017 Purpose Prize from AARP for his work with WeCCAAN.
He runs an educational consulting service, Seagull Industries, in Atlanta.