Mercyhurst volunteers aid Katrina cleanup efforts in New Orleans

Mercyhurst volunteers Katrina aid
Hurricane Sandy might be the more recent name in the news, but for residents of New Orleans, the recovery from Hurricane Katrina is still far from over.

Beginning today, the Hurst is there to help as 16 students and three staff members make a week-long service trip to New Orleans during term break.

This marks the sixth consecutive year that members of the Mercyhurst University community have volunteered to rebuild homes as part of Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts. Students and staff will take on flooring, tiling and other construction projects in the city’s Upper Ninth Ward and Gentilly neighborhoods, as well as partner with the New Orleans Mission to deliver Thanksgiving dinners to families in need.

Mercyhurst students and staff have also traveled to New Orleans during spring break for rebuilding efforts with Habitat for Humanity.

The Mercyhurst Office of Service Learning sponsors the fall service trip. Students contribute most of the funding for the trip, with additional funds provided by the service learning office and an Academic Enrichment Grant.

Colin Hurley, service learning director at Mercyhurst, is one of three staff leaders on the trip, along with Bethany Brun, AmeriCorps*VISTA member, and Dyan Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics.

Service learning trips are an integral part of students’ development, both intellectually and personally, outside the classroom, Hurley said.

“I want the students to see the connection this has to their lives,” he said. “I want them to ask the big questions. Poverty doesn’t develop overnight. I want them to inquire, ‘Why is this still happening?’”

The trip combines service with guided reflection so students can comprehend and discuss how their efforts fit into the bigger picture of social justice and civic engagement. The combination of direct service and reflection reinforces the university’s mission, he added.

“It’s about living the mercy mission,” Hurley said. “The Sisters of Mercy have laid a great foundation for us so our students can ask, ‘What does it mean to be a student for social justice and for mercy?’”

Senior biology major Adrianne LaGruth is returning for her second New Orleans service trip after last year’s experience had such a profound impact on her.

“Service learning is so much more than community service. It really opens your eyes to things that are outside of the Mercyhurst world,” she said. “It gives students a chance to become more aware of the big stuff and the important problems.”

LaGruth will be posting updates, photos and video about the team’s experience on her blog, Service is a Work of Heart, at adriannemercyhurst.blogspot.com.

The New Orleans service trip gives Mercyhurst students a cultural immersion opportunity, too – after all, what’s a visit to the “Big Easy” without a ferry ride, visit to the renowned Café du Monde or traditional crawfish dinner?

“Our host relief organization is all about Southern hospitality,” Hurley said. “The experience is a great combination of service, learning, culture and immersion.”
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