Rebuilding the Gulf: Campus Ministry Gives Back in the Big Easy
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.
Featured Friar: Trevor Wakefield ’21
by Hannah Langley ’21
Service and leadership have been a core part of the academic mission at Providence College since its opening. Trevor Wakefield ’21 is a great example of a PC student who continues to pursue this today.
As a theology and Spanish double major, Wakefield has given back to the PC community through his involvement in Campus Ministry, the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, and Friar Food Rescue.
As a member of ESL, Wakefield talked about how he has tutored some of the Sodexo employees at Raymond Dining Hall, as many of them speak Spanish as a first language. When talking about his work in ESL, Wakefield discussed his love for it, saying, “I really enjoy this ministry because it allows me to form a real relationship and connection with the workers.” In Friar Food Rescue, he explained how they donate leftover food from the dining hall to local homeless shelters, which is something Wakefield feels extremely passionate about.
Beyond the College’s campus, Wakefield participated in a service trip to Argentina during the summer of 2019. He mentioned, “I’ve been on a few mission trips before, but it’s nothing like doing six weeks of service. It’s easy to ride the week-long high of a mission trip, but when you are there for more than a month, things get into a rhythm and you get a sense of what things are like on a day to day basis.”
Some of the highlights for Wakefield from this trip included working with the local communities, talking to Elvio, their taxi driver throughout the trip, and visiting a semi-indigenous community in the Andes Mountains. “Being 8000 feet up, freezing cold, just spending time talking to people was a pretty awesome experience,” recalled Wakefield. He talked about how the trip allowed him to “immerse himself in their culture in a way that [he] never [had] before,” and how he learned so much about Spanish and Argentinian culture.
Besides service, Wakefield is involved at PC in other ways, such as participating in intramurals, where he and his friends won an intramural shirt, the club tennis team, working in the office of residence life, and being a resident assistant (RA) himself. “I really like working in Reslife,” said Wakefield, “because it is a great way to get involved, meet new people, and serve the students of the community.”
When asked what his favorite things about PC are, Wakefield replied that it is the sense of community. “I know it’s a cliche, but it’s definitely the best part about going here,” said Wakefield. He also mentioned how he loves the faith life and community that surrounds PC, saying, “I love walking around and seeing the friars just hanging out with students. Not only that, but I love being able to altar serve at the 10 p.m. Mass because there are so many students who are happy to be there worshiping the Lord together.”
Wakefield is grateful for the friends he has made during his time at PC and the community that surrounds him, saying, “When I walk into a room to a group of people smiling and happy to see me, I feel incredibly proud of the people that I’ve met and the friends I’ve made.”
Although Wakefield will be studying abroad in Seville, Spain this spring semester, he is excited to experience all that it holds. “I am very excited to try as many different kinds of food as possible. Between Spain and all the other countries I hope to visit, I’m hoping to get my fill of unique and delicious food.”
When asked what advice Wakefield might give to a PC student, he said not to be afraid to do something you like or love. “I’m one of two theology majors in my entire class, but it’s something that I love to study. Even if it’s maybe not an area of focus that is popular or will bring in a lot of money, if it’s something that you love, then those other things will matter a lot less.” After graduation, he hopes to pursue ministry-based work either in a high school or college setting, or within the Church.