A group of close to 30 St. John’s students and five administrators volunteering their services on a recent plunge in the hurricane ravaged New Orleans stood true to St. John’s unwavering Vincentian heritage.
Led by the Catholic Charities and Operation Helping Hands, the group consisted of members of various organizations including Student Government representatives, university orientation leaders, Resident Assistants, fraternity and sorority members and other student leaders from both the Queens and Staten Island campuses. The New Orleans Plunge visit, which took place Jan. 5-10, tried to bring hope to those affected by Hurricane Katrina by making repairs on buildings that desperately needed it.
To aid in the ongoing rebuilding efforts after the hurricane, the students were split up into four teams each with a group leader from the Catholic Charities. The five days spent rehabilitating New Orleans had the students occupied with daily tasks such as weeding, washing windows, painting and caulking the exterior of the seven homes.
At St John’s, service to the community is not only a long standing tradition, but can leave a life-long impression on those who serve. Students like Jacquelyn Torres, for example were affected by what they saw in the Lower Ninth Ward.
“The front doors on the homes and abandoned buildings still had the ‘X’ mark left from the storm it seemed as though they were never forgetting what happened, you could also see the foundation and where the homes were located, it was still freshly done,” she said.
As profound as the laboring work results were what was most lasting were the emotional connections the group made with the local residents and homeowners.
Lauren Len, a senior, felt that St. John’s students made a difference in the lives of the residents of New Orleans.
“We came to the realization that each of our small tasks count toward something larger and that we have the ability to make a difference,” she said. “St. John’s truly made a difference when we painted the house of Ms. Jenkins, as she, too, affected our lives when she referred to us as her family.
“When she painted over the symbols marking that her house had been inspected after Katrina hit, it signified a new beginning for all involved.”
At the end of each day of service, the students participated in a reflection sharing period where they voiced their desires to help those who still suffer the effects of the storm.
Natalie Maio, associate director of Leadership Development, found the experience to be eye-opening as the tragedy still lingers on with home owners and residents of New Orleans. “This trip gives you the chance to see life in a different way and really appreciate what and who you have in your own life,” she said.