Participating on a trip with the Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience club, or L.O.V.E., is a rewarding opportunity offered by Manhattan College. Each trip takes months of planning in advance to ensure an amazing experience.
Flights, housing, itinerary, and budgets are all accounted for well ahead of time but some things you just cannot plan for. When record breaking snow storm Jonas hit, L.O.V.E groups New Orleans and Ecuador’s months of planning unraveled.
According to The Weather Channel, Blizzard Jonas brought more than 2-feet of snow to New York and over 1-foot to at least 14 states. Because of the high volume of rapid snowfall, New York City was under a travel ban, no one could get in or out.
Over 10,000 flights were cancelled nationwide including New Orleans’ and Ecuador’s returning flights. A problem arose with school reopening Sunday and classes starting Monday and no way to get home.
Jenn Edwards Robinson was the first one to receive information that the team from Ecuador’s flight from Miami to New York was cancelled. When she found out on Friday, she immediately took action.
“When I got news that they were set to arrive during the major point of the blizzard I contacted Rostro de Christo and they contacted American Airlines and got everything cleared up,” Robinson said.
“Part of the group had to leave early Sunday morning and fly into Miami and stay a night there while three people stayed behind in Ecuador, the three that stayed took a red eye into Miami and met up at the airport early Monday morning.”
“Everyone flew home together but they could not fly directly to New York. They ended up flying from Miami to Indianapolis had a small layover and then flew from Indianapolis to New York.”
“When Saturday came around, I got news that New Orleans flight was automatically cancelled for Sunday. In all actuality it was a best case scenario to have known it was cancelled at least a day or two ahead of time. I called my travel agent and she got on the phone with Jet Blue but we weren’t able to get an earlier flight for then until Tuesday.”
After dealing with the group’s flight schedules, Robinson contacted everyone’s parents or guardians and explained the situation. She also contacted Rostro de Christo and Project Homecoming and arranged housing situations for the groups’ prolonged stays.
“There isn’t really a protocol when you are at the mercy of airline cancellation due to weather. The airlines do not reimburse you because the weather is not their fault. I called up enterprise and made sure they can have the vans extra days,” Robinson explained.
“The main goal was to make sure everyone had the food they needed, a roof over their head, and a way to get everyone home safely. L.O.V.E. doesn’t have a budget, the budget is whatever is fundraised but we keep about a $25 per person contingency fund for potential emergencies. This is a little buffer for situations like this.”
Despite the travel setbacks the group was able to make the most of every part of the trip including the people who had to stay behind in Ecuador.
Michael Dugan was one out of three chaperons on the Ecuador trip and one of the three who remained behind.
“As soon as we found out about the storm and the housing situation we got the group together and planned out our course of action. I stayed behind with the other male on the trip and a bilingual girl because it made sense to have someone who spoke Spanish with us,” Dugan said.
“We got to do another home visit and hang out because it elongated the experience. It was nice to have a chance for it to be with just us and the volunteers. We never had a feeling of being a nuisance. We were happy continuing our work there.
We were there for a week total so by the time we were comfortable and getting in the swing of things the week was over. We were saying ‘I wish we could stay longer’ and then when we were thrown a curve ball and had to stay a little longer, no one was mad or complaining.”
Ecuador was an immersion trip designed to not only let students learn about another culture first hand but also had an opportunity for service. A trip like this brings out Jasper Spirit.
“Having the opportunity to tutor children in one of the most impoverished areas of Guayaquil encouraged me to take this experience of solidarity with the marginalized and this enhanced intercultural awareness back home with us and implement it here,” Professor Julie Leininger Pycior said.
“This travelling of the trip was lengthy. Those three good spirited students who stayed behind boarded a midnight flight and met us in Miami. They had no sleep but you wouldn’t know it. They were so cheerful and great company. Everyone on the trip was cooperative and organized. By the end of the week we had bonded and loved each other so our layovers flew by. The college reacted fabulously, they were so supportive about our late arrival.”
The group from New Orleans also had different travel arrangements. Instead of flying straight into JFK, they had to land in Boston with a layover.
“One of the main topics of our trip was ‘God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle’ and that was put to the test a few hours later,” Meghan Makarczuk said.
“When we found out our flight was cancelled we immediately went into fight or flight because we had to look at how much money we had left and see if we could put our left overs together from the week and recreate meals. We also needed to see if we could find free things to do in the city. Everyone who was a Boy Scout or Girl Scout growing up definitely put their skills to the test. We actually needed to cancel one of our planned dinner and music excursions that was planned to save the money. We ended up renting a few DVD’s and just spending the day relaxing after an exhausting week of manual labor.”
Cheap entertainment was necessary for such a long delay. In the airports, playing cards were the go-to game.
“It would have been helpful if we had an extra $500 worth of cushion money,” Olivia Smith said. “It became a matter of figuring out our priorities and talked to the students to see if they were willing to spend their own money. We had about a 14 hour travel day.”
Both trips have returned home safely with incredible stories and unforgettable experiences. After this travel situation took a turn for the worst, there is talk about putting together an emergency money fund for future L.O.V.E. trips with a set plan.