Flyers have been hung in every building, fundraisers have been held every week, and students of all classes and majors are talking about it – the L.O.V.E. Program is one of the most popular clubs at Manhattan College and it’s not hard to see why.
Short for the Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience, L.O.V.E. offers travel experiences for students who are interested in social justice and becoming immersed in other cultures. Destinations are all over the world – Haiti, Ecuador, New Orleans, Arizona, Montana, El Salvador, Florida, Texas, and San Francisco – and each trip has a different objective.
This winter break, there will be four different groups of students going on trips. Students who went on them last year and want to go again are given the opportunity to lead the team their second time.
Kate Reuter and Caroline O’Connell are leading this year’s Jamaica trip, Fiona Dunn and Caity Callahan are leading Haiti, Olivia Smith is leading New Orleans, and Emily Whelan is leading Ecuador.
Junior sociology major Olivia Smith says that her trip to New Orleans last year was so influential that she wanted to lead the trip this year and show people a part of the city that not everyone gets to see. Her team will be working with Project Homecoming to rebuild homes destroyed by Katrina.
“I had been going to New Orleans for a while before my L.O.V.E. trip, but I always saw the beautiful parts. The touristy areas were not affected by Hurricane Katrina, but when I saw the parts that were, I felt like I needed to help those people,” Smith said.
As a leader, Smith’s job entails preparing for and overseeing the whole trip: picking a faculty member to be the advisor, getting people to apply, selecting the team and planning meetings.
Smith says that her meetings are focused on preparing her team for what they will see and experience in New Orleans, what their objectives are and creating a safe space for everyone to open up to each other and reflect.
Students are becoming more interested in these trips after hearing stories from those who went on them, and also because they are becoming aware of the greater issues in the world that don’t affect their daily lives.
“People have started to recognize their privilege enough to want to help others, and L.O.V.E. is great because they get the best of both worlds, travel and service,” Smith said.
Fundraising for L.O.V.E. is every week. Each team gets an individual fundraiser, and there are four or five for the whole department.
On Friday afternoon, they had their Fall Festival in the backyard of Jasper Hall where students came to support the teams through fun activities like donut eating contests, painting pumpkins, tie-dying t-shirts, making s’mores and getting henna tattoos.
Kate Reuter, a senior psychology major, and Caroline O’Connell, a junior civil engineering major, are leading the trip to Kingston, Jamaica. They have dedicated at least two hours each day to planning for the trip and fundraising, but know that all of their work is well worth it because of how changed they were by their experiences last year in Jamaica.
“It was the week of my life when I was most stressed out and most relaxed. It was a privilege to be that mentally strained, because I realized how lucky I was,” said Reuter.
“We can get so caught up in our everyday lives here at Manhattan and take for granted what we have. We are so lucky to be able to go to this school, but to kind of step out of that, even if it’s just for a week, and see how people are living in another country, is amazing. It can change your entire attitude about your friends, family, your major, and your life,” O’Connell said.
They also explained how difficult it was to adjust to their new setting and see what another culture is like firsthand. No one on the team is allowed to bring their phone with them, so they lose connection to their personal life for the week.
The twelve students on the Jamaica team will be doing a lot of traveling and working with Mustard Seed Communities, a Catholic organization that provides homes for adults and children with disabilities, people with AIDS and teen mothers.
They will be living in a home-style building specifically for missionaries, with running water and three meals a day, but they will also be witnessing poverty and illness up close.
“It’s a really overwhelming experience, so we have to make sure we’re preparing our team for what they’re going to see, because there’s a real shock factor. The L.O.V.E. motto is ‘participate don’t anticipate,’ so it’s really about getting everyone to focus on the present moment and take from it what they can,” said Reuter.
To support L.O.V.E Haiti, their next fundraiser is a corn hole tournament on Saturday October 31st at 2:00 p.m. on the Quad. Look out for more weekly fundraisers for the other teams, as well as the grilled cheese nights on Thursdays.
The L.O.V.E. program gives students an eye-opening, educating experience on social justice while also bettering the lives of other people in parts of the world where daily life is a struggle. If you are interested, applications for summer trips will be available next semester.