A total of 25 Le Moyne students observed this past Martin Luther King Jr. Day be engaging in Operation Southern Comfort's 37th service trip to New Orleans, LA.
It was Rebecca Gray's fourth trip to New Orleans as a Le Moyne volunteer. One of the five team leaders, Gray '12 reflected on her numerous experiences helping in the ongoing post-Katrina rebuilding effort.
"As college students the life we lead can be very selfish," she says. "We take everything we have for granted and don't think about the simple things in life. Going to New Orleans humbled my heart and made me thankful for everything I have. I entered the spring semester of senior year with an open heart and a new appreciation for what I have been given. Before I started coming on these trips, I never really had any conception of what the world was like outside of this tiny niche in which I grew up. I was raised with food, shelter, money and family. I grew to learn, however, that now everything in life is what I knew it to be, and the older I got, the more I was able to understand what was happening in the world, but I knew that to truly understand something you had to experience it first."
Students worked in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish in the ongoing rebuilding effort. In addition to construction projects, students also tutored children at All Souls Community Center and helped plant 633 trees in the Louisiana bayou to help strenghten the shoreline against future storms.
Jay Morgese '12, a communications major, organized the trip along with Gray and fellow Southern Comfort veterans Norman Clarke '12, Maggie Donohye '12, and Courtney Phoenix '12.
"It's so easy to get caught up in everyday activities. Weeks like this allow me to see the difference I can make in the world. I also take many things for granted, but working with people who have lost everything helps me appreciate all that I have," says Morgese, who served as the site manager for a project to rebuild the home of a woman who had been living in temporary shelter since Hurricane Katrina struck. He and his team stripped and sanded the floors of her house and installed a new backyard fence. For Morgese, the true impact of the project was not simply the act of engaging in the service, but the opportunity to interact with the homeowner, learn her story, and experience firsthand the impact his work would have on her and her family.
For first-time volunteer Cameron Green '14, the trip not only provided an opportunity to serve, but also gave him a new perspective on his personal experience of Hurricane Katrina.
"As a boy growing up in Texas during Katrina I rarely noticed the new students from New Orleans taking over the halls of my school or the Tulane football team practicing on my field. However, I now see the devastation that the hurricane brought and the tragedy that these people have been through. I am so grateful that I went down, and I'm forever grateful to the people I met."
This trip marked the launch of a Semester-of-Service in Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., funded in part by a mini-grant from Campus Compact and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
By Gloria Heffernan
Director of Service Learning