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Above: A group of 14 PC students traveled to Louisiana for the NOLA
Below: Students on the Urban Plunge with My Brother's Keeper
volunteered at a homeless shelter, an assisted living facility and other

Students spend winter break serving and learning in New England, New Orleans, Ecuador, and Nicaragua

While most college students across the country savored the final days of winter break before returning to their studies, Mark Correia ’14 (East Providence, R.I.) was in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a neighborhood that remains devastated nine years after Hurricane Katrina.

Correia, an accountancy major in the Providence College School of Business, spent a week in New Orleans with 13 PC students and the College chaplain, Rev. James Cuddy, O.P. ’98. They volunteered at a shelter for the poor and homeless, installed energy-efficient light bulbs in homes, and listened to stories about lives since the storm.

“I was kind of skeptical at first. You think, after nine years, that things would actually be better,” said Correia. “But so much work still needs to be done. People do not understand how hard the conditions are. You see neighborhoods with demolished lots and houses that have been rebuilt but aren’t the best quality.”

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Nako ’15 (Natick, Mass.), a history major, was involved in service, too, helping haul couches, mattresses, box springs, and tables up flights of stairs in apartment houses as a volunteer with My Brother’s Keeper.

The nonprofit provides free furniture and food to people in need in eastern Massachusetts. At the end of each delivery the recipients are handed a crucifix and told, “We’re just the delivery people … this is the man who sent you furniture.”

“The best part was seeing people’s reactions, which would typically be of thankfulness with a glimmer of hope in their smile,” said Nako. “The giving of the crucifix is a powerful gesture. It carries a compelling message — through the grace of God’s love I am able to serve others. I feel that I will carry the power of the crucifix’s message with me in every endeavor I do for the rest of my life.”

Service at home and abroad

Campus Ministry sponsored the NOLA Immersion trip to New Orleans and the Urban Plunge service with My Brother’s Keeper, which included work at a homeless shelter as well. For the first time, Campus Ministry made it possible for international students who remained at PC during winter break to join a service project as well.

Campus Minister Sarah Atwood said five students from Vietnam and one from Thailand volunteered at an assisted living facility, a transitional housing complex for the homeless, Ronald McDonald House, and the new My Brother’s Keeper facility in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Service and learning took place outside the United States as well. Through PC’s Feinstein Institute for Public Service, students and professors spent early January in Ecuador and Nicaragua.  

Dr. Jeffrey D. Pugh, assistant professor of political science, and Eric Sung, associate professor of photography, led students to Quito, Ecuador, where they lived with families in an indigenous village and cooperated on a photography project, then worked on an anti-bullying campaign with an elementary school.

Dr. Nicholas V. Longo ’96, associate professor of public and community service studies, and Dr. Nuria Alonso García, associate professor of Spanish, directed students in designing a literacy and library fund-raising program for a community in Nicaragua.

Finding grateful recipients 

The service experiences were eye-opening. Alexandra Drury ’17 (Hanover, Mass.), who plans to major in elementary special education, recalled bringing furniture to a couple with young daughters during the Urban Plunge.

“The delivery was extremely moving because, immediately when we walked into the house, the couple acted as if we had known them our entire lives,” said Drury. “It was so powerful to see that a couch that fit so perfectly in the living area, and ‘Hello Kitty’ sheets for the daughters’ beds, were all that was needed for this woman to truly feel at home.”

Even in the most devastated areas of New Orleans, houses are decorated with the colors of Mardi Gras, and even trash cans sport the fleur-de-lis logo, said Meagan Sullivan ’14 (Plainville, Mass.), a health policy and management major. Everywhere, “the culture is tangible,” said Troy Valdivia ’16 (North Providence, R.I.), a social work major.

Valdivia was amazed at the Gospel music during Mass at St. Joan of Arc Church.

“I was blown away by how moved people were by Christ,” said Valdivia. “The opening song was 10 minutes long, and they wanted to go on singing. They didn’t care if they were there for two or three hours. It was really inspiring.”

Jacqueline Luciano ’16 (Staten Island, N.Y.), an economics and global studies major, was struck by the gratitude shown by the people of New Orleans.

“The people who were getting services at the shelter respected the people who worked there. It’s a city based on relationships,” said Luciano. “I asked a man how he was doing, and I didn’t expect much of a response. He said, ‘I’m blessed.’ That’s what has an impact on you. Those are the answers that really touch your heart and make you think about your own life and appreciate what you have.”

— Vicki-Ann Downing

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