Cresson, Pa. – Deep within the spirit of Christmas is the truth that the holiday celebrates giving. The season offers a multitude of opportunities to give back to those among us who need it most. Sponsored by the Mount Aloysius College Office of Campus Ministry, 23 students and three staff members spent a pre-Christmas week helping the still struggling residents of New Orleans, Louisiana restore their community.
The lasting devastation from Hurricane Katrina goes well beyond obvious property damage. There are misplaced people, jobs once handled by workers who never came back to the city, animals abandoned that need care and still so much restoration needed for damaged buildings throughout the region.
President Tom Foley, who volunteered in Biloxi, M.S. immediately after Hurricane Katrina understands the lingering devastation that is still disrupting life throughout the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. “The scale of destruction was just unprecedented,” he said. “And the government response was slow, incomplete and cumbersome at that time.”
The Mount Aloysius College helpers landed in New Orleans in mid-December and were welcomed again at Camp Restore. Camp Restore is a volunteer Christian mission in New Orleans, LA. The well-established destination operates with the goal of restoring faith, home, and community to still struggling New Orleans. Camp Restore provides housing, food and equipment to volunteer groups like the Mountie helpers who rebuild houses, churches, and schools and work on a wide range of New Orleans community projects. Mount Aloysius College and the sponsoring Sisters of Mercy have a long history of helping in the storm ravaged Gulf Coast.
Sister Helen Marie Burns, RSM, vice president of mission integration at Mount Aloysius sees the New Orleans experience as an essential component to the complete student experience at the College. “This is our eighth visit to the Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast,” she said. “Our students come away with a real sense of accomplishment. The work allows them to gain a sense of their own power for good by helping create a better life for those in need of their skills and, finally,” added Sister Helen, “they gain real gratitude for the gifts that make up the fabric of their own lives.”
The roster of organizations in New Orleans which would be touched by Mount Aloysius students and staff included Rescue Ranch, an rural nonprofit ranch that cares for rescued horses; the Boys and Girls Club that needs help with young children in an after school program; Docville Farms, is involved in an extensive wetlands restoration project, the local ARC needs assistance with their ongoing garden and the local library in that part of the city is still reorganizing from Katrina’s impact.
Mount Aloysius College senior Bradley Mikitko of Hastings, Pa., saw the New Orleans service trip as a great learning experience for himself and fellow students. “Each of the sites we visited during the week had unique challenges and opportunities for us to learn new skills and provide help to these non-profit organizations and various New Orleans communities. Even though the time passed really quickly, we had a wonderful experience. The people we helped will remember the Mount Aloysius students,” he said, “and we’ll be sharing those memories too for years to come. These service trips are important and successful programs for students and staff members.”
Mount Aloysius students participating in this years’ service trip to New Orleans include: Adam Pernelli, Latrobe. Pa.; Ajai-Tanea Timmons, Allentown, Pa.; Alexcia Acosta, Boswell, Pa.; Ashley Skowronek, Saltsburg, Pa.; Austin Toth, Conemaugh, Pa.; Bradley M. Mikitko, Hastings, Pa. ; Brandi Levish, Freeport, Pa. ; Brooke Descavish, Altoona, Pa.; Emily Edwards, Tyrone, Pa.; Hannah Hoffman, Bedford, Pa.; Jennifer J. Craig, Portage, Pa.; Kalyn Blake, Cherry Tree, Pa.; Kerri Wingard, Brockway, Pa.; Laura Trude, Winburne, Pa.; Mardiá Gibson, Lancaster, Pa.; Marissa Lombardi, Newry, Pa.; Marra Balmer, Hershey, Pa.; Megan Ruddock, Indiana, Pa.; Michelle Ubbens, Saylorsburg, Pa.; Montana Peightal, Tyrone, Pa.; Rachel Harris, Saint Marys, Pa.; Rebecca Collins, Lewistown, Pa.; and Sarah Geer, Brookville, Pa.
The students, with the help and support of the Mount Aloysius Campus Ministry department, spent months planning the trip and raising funds to cover expenses. The group was joined by three Mount Aloysius College staff members: Thomas Shireman, associate director of campus ministry; Elaine Grant, director of student activities and Brianna Baker, assistant director of athletics.
The Mount Aloysius College community service during the summer and fall of 2013 totals nearly 8,000 hours. During that time various college groups completed 222 service projects throughout the southern Allegheny Mountain region as well as projects like the New Orleans service trip that touched people in other parts of the country and around the world in areas like Haiti and Guyana. Mount Aloysius College service opportunities seek solutions to problems in such diverse areas as economic opportunity, education, environment, health and wellness, veterans and deployed personnel. One hundred percent of Mount Aloysius College students perform community service as part of their educational experience.