by Kyle Burgess ’21
This past week, eleven Providence College students had the opportunity to experience Southern Hospitality while serving the communities of New Orleans, LA during the annual NOLA Immersion Trip. The program is sponsored by Campus Ministry and allowed the volunteers, accompanied by Pamela Tremblay, campus minister director of service, immersion & social justice, and Fr. Peter Martyr Yungwirth, O.P., to aid in the continuing rebuild of the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction as well as gain an appreciation for the unique culture and people that call NOLA home.
Per Campus Ministry’s website, the primary focus of the program’s mission “is both a general response to the Gospel call to do justice and a specific response to the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans, LA. The NOLA Immersion has at its core a commitment to the dignity of the human person, lived out by accompanying our neighbors in the journey toward justice.”
Students on the NOLA trip would encounter these neighbors in many areas that were not only devastated by the hurricane, but also by government neglect. The State of Louisiana failed to provide adequate aid to residents of places like the Lower Ninth Ward due to its vast poverty, and instead bought out houses to rent to victims.
Outside aid such as Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which broke ground in 2007, constructing new, environmentally-friendly houses inevitably backfired as well, with the structures being deemed “defective” because of electrical, plumbing, and ventilation issues.
Touring communities such as the Lower Ninth Ward gave a sense of purpose to the students’ mission and inspired them to go about their work with great enthusiasm to make a difference. Students worked to bring justice through a wide variety of projects, including house repair and construction, providing food for the homeless, sorting out clothing donations for displaced young adults, and even helping on the administrative side of outreach centers in preparing Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for managers.
Friars found every job they partook in highly rewarding as they were able to directly interact with the people they were serving. The volunteers quickly grew on the residents in the shelters they worked at, eventually greeting each other regularly on a first-name basis and conveying shared interests in the other’s life story. Additionally, Friars were able to work alongside members of other outreach programs that were operating in other boroughs of New Orleans such as the St. Bernard Projects.
When not serving in the Harry Thompson Center or constructing homes, these Friars could be found taking in all the sights and experiences that the city had to offer. Highlights of these side trips include the Whitney Plantation, Joan of Arc Parade, the Katrina National Memorial Museum, and the Studio Be Art Gallery.
Students even got the chance to watch former Friar Kris Dunn ’16 and the Chicago Bulls take on the hometown New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. A group dinner of traditional New Orleans cuisine followed, and students were treated to local fare of jambalaya and King Cake while meeting with PC alumni from the area.
“The faith and sense of community that we were welcomed into was incredible,” recalled Caitlin Gleeson ’22. “We all learned a lot about New Orleans that we did not know before we came here. I never realized the lack of relief with its ties to government corruption and to continued racism in the state, but we could still see the impacts of our work in helping to serve others.” For those who took part on the trip, the experiences they brought back to Friartown are ones they will not soon forget.