by HALEY BURNSIDE & RIKKILYNN SHIELDS, Senior Writers
This past winter break, four groups of students traveled to four different cities to be of service through L.O.V.E. trips.
Their efforts took them to three U.S. cities: El Paso, Flint and New Orleans, as well as one international trip to Ecuador. Through their travels, the student participants learned about the local communities while ultimately serving the citizens in a number of ways.
The Faith in Flint trip took five students and one faculty advisor to the Michigan city that made national news in 2014 for its alarming lack of clean water. As a result, Flint’s residents experienced health problems. Considering the socioeconomic standing of the city, this has created significant financial problems for the citizens.
The students spent a week working alongside local organizations to assist the community in a variety of ways, according to junior Michael Hackett who went on the trip.
“We visited various organizations in Flint that provide resources to its community. We visited a center that helped to create a safe environment which provides community members with life skills, education and workplace training in addition to food and clothes,” said Hackett.
In addition to this excursion, the students visited multiple food banks and houses that provide basic necessities like clothing, toiletries and household goods to the members of the community who need them. They rounded out the experience by visiting two public schools in Flint where they interacted with local students and learned about their education system.
According to Hackett, the group gained new knowledge and service experiences through L.O.V.E. Flint.
“Throughout this trip we were able to interact with the community and hear stories from the members of the Flint community,” said Hackett. “We were able to get a better understanding of what was really happening in Flint from those who were directly affected rather than hearing the stories that are broadcast on the news. We were also able to show the Flint community that there are people outside of their city that are thinking about them and that their voices are heard.”
Sophia Misiakiewicz, another student participant, found her purpose in the trip through her educational goals.
“I am an environmental science major, and have been following the Water Crisis pretty closely,” said Misiakiewicz. “With a lot of different sources giving different information about what actually led to the lead leaching into the drinking water, I wanted to find out what was actually going on, and how the community was dealing with the aftermath.”
The L.O.V.E. NOLA group spent a week in Louisiana learning and serving the community. The trip’s student leader, Ireland Twiggs, cited multiple reasons for her involvement with the project.
“I got involved in L.O.V.E. NOLA because I did L.O.V.E. Ecuador last winter break, and it truly changed my outlook on many things as well as helped me develop long-lasting friendships. I wanted to lead a trip to help give that same experience to students,” said Twiggs.
The Louisiana city, which is still recovering from the disastrous Hurricane Katrina, had personal significance to Twiggs.
“I wanted to lead New Orleans in particular because that is where my family is from and I was there when Hurricane Katrina hit. I wanted to give back to the community that has given me so much.”
The group of students had a multiple goals for the trip, but cleaning up the aftermath of the hurricane was the priority.
“The overall goal was to reconstruct homes and communities still suffering the effects of Hurricane Katrina as well as learn about issues involving racism, homelessness and the criminal justice system,” said Twiggs.
Senior Elizabeth Woolfley, one of the student participants, explained how this goal played out in the activities and events of the trip.
“As a group, one of our goals was to focus on learning from and being with the community rather than just doing for them. We learned a lot from discussions with speakers, volunteers and residents, as well as from the volunteer work we did on different sites,” said Woolfley.
For the senior business major, the mission was even more personal and important.
“Personally, one of my goals was to gain a different perspective of New Orleans and learn more about the city. I have family from New Orleans and have visited many times, but this experience showed a different side than I was used to seeing,” said Woolfley. “I knew New Orleans still hasn’t fully recovered from Katrina, but this trip gave me so much more knowledge of other issues, its culture, and its history.”
The Ecuador L.O.V.E. trip was led by Shannon Raczynski, a junior peace studies and philosophy major. As coordinator, Raczynski took all of the knowledge she gained on previous L.O.V.E. and service trips to make sure the other members of her group had as great of an experience as she has had on prior trips.
“I have done a few different service trips in the past five years and it has completely opened my eyes to the world,” Raczynski said. “When I was a sophomore I went on a trip to Honduras, and after that I knew that I wanted to choose a major where I could continue to learn about different countries and cultures. For all of my trips, I was lucky enough to have leaders that were incredibly passionate about what we were doing and it only sparked my passion more. I wanted to lead a trip not only because I wanted to share my passion with others, but I wanted to learn from people with new perspectives.”
Raczynski told The Quadrangle that the organization that Manhattan College partners with in Ecuador emphasizes the idea of being with people rather than doing for.
“There is a misconception that on immersion trips that people must do physical labor or donate to the organization or people. From this, L.O.V.E. Ecuador was really about just meeting people who live completely different lives and have different struggles and being present with one another,” she said.
On a typical day in Ecuador, the group of students were responsible for small chores, such as purchasing food at the market to eat for the day, as well as visiting locals, organizations already established in the community, schools and shelters.
“A typical person where we stayed in Ecuador, lives off of two dollars a day, so we made sure we didn’t spend more than that on our food,” Raczynski said.
At the end of each day, the group made dinner together while reflecting on the day in a variety of different ways. While some students talked about it, others wrote about it.
“The biggest impact was the sense of community we experienced in Ecuador,” Raczynski said. “A lot of the times people go to developing countries and just point out the problems or struggles that people are facing rather than the strengths. The sense of community and welcome we received in Ecuador was incredible. Even walking down the street, every person would say ‘good morning’ or ‘hi’ to every other person they saw. This community that was created allows them to help one another when needed and have a support system,” she said.
For Raczynski, L.O.V.E. trips are what brought her to Manhattan College. Being able to lead one this year, to her, drove her to making sure that the students she traveled with felt more like a team.
“I am a huge believer that one can not even begin to understand a place or a group of people unless they see it or experience it. I read about different cultures and the world almost every day, but the experiences I have had are what drives my passion and interests in them,” Raczynski said.
Anna Rosario, a junior international studies major, led her second L.O.V.E. trip this year to El Paso, Texas alongside junior Faith LaRock. Both LaRock and Rosario traveled to Montana on a L.O.V.E. trip together, where they decided they wanted to be co-leaders.
“We each have different personalities, so we believed that we could bring something different to our group. Personally, I wanted to lead a L.O.V.E. trip because it is super rewarding seeing the members in your group grow in knowledge and maturity as our weekly meetings progressed,” Rosario said.
In El Paso, every day was different. Rosario told The Quadrangle that no matter the task or location, the group would wake up every morning by seven and have breakfast finished by eight. Three of the days they were there, a member of the HOPE Institute gave the group a presentation on Catholic Social Teaching.
The first day, the group played with children, taught them how to play frisbee, soccer and other games. Two of the days, the group went to a Diocesan center that had been converted into a shelter for migrants. The students were responsible for helping out around the shelter.
“The second time we were there was because 130-ish migrants had been released from ICE custody and 88 of them were going to the Diocesan shelter and they were extremely short staffed. We changed our plans for that Friday completely and went there to do whatever they needed us to do. Amanda, a freshman member of the group, and I were in charge of the female showers; basically all we did was direct them inside and get them whatever they needed,” Rosario said.
While in El Paso, the students had the chance to speak to a variety of people, including migrant women and children.
“A challenge that I faced on this L.O.V.E. trip was trying to keep my emotions in check when I listened to the migrant women and children tell me their stories of why they chose to leave their homes. That was by far the hardest thing that I had to do on this trip on a daily basis, because on the inside all I wanted to do was yell and cry. But, they didn’t want that from us because they had made it to the U.S and were so optimistic and hopefully for the future even though many of them were unsure about what would lie ahead,” Rosario said.
LaRock and Rosario’s group included themselves, two juniors, five freshman and one senior.
“I learned many things as a L.O.V.E. leader, one of them being both a friend and a leader to the group members. I learned that it’s good to not always be in control, even as a leader; that I should just go with the flow and not micromanage everything that happened. When I did that, I found that I was at peace and present on the trip the most,” Rosario said.
To Rosario, being able to interact with migrants and hear their stories is what had the biggest impact on her.
“Our media portrays the migrants as people who are coming into the states the ‘wrong way’ and their sole purpose is to steal jobs from hard working citizens. This idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many migrants who are migrating now come from Central America; Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Most left their countries because of the extreme poverty that they were facing, others because of the amount of violence that was occurring,” she said.
“Each left with the yearning of safety. I wanted to go to El Paso to come to my own conclusion about the current migrant situation. Instead of us closing our doors to the migrants (mostly women and children right now) we need to be opening them and tending to their needs because if there’s one thing I learned on this trip is that there is no ‘right way’ of coming into this country,” Rosario said.
From her freshman year, Rosario has grown in many ways– and her L.O.V.E. trips have had a huge impact on her character development.
“L.O.V.E. trips have opened many doors for me: starting off as a freshman going to Montana, having no idea what social justice, until now leading my second trip and experiencing my third,” she said. “I’m completely social justice obsessed. L.O.V.E. trips have allowed me to experience the world and travel with a new set of eyes. I no longer just look on the mask that the world wants me to see but I research what is happening underneath. It has impacted what I want to do after graduation, whether that’s volunteer or work with different non for profits that I have made connections with; I know that social justice is something that I will forever have in my life. I think everyone should experience a LOVE trip because it will most definitely open your eyes,” Rosario said.
Whether one is a freshman or a senior, has knowledge of social justice or not, L.O.V.E. trips have provided a diverse group of Manhattan College students with knowledge of not only the world around them, but also better knowledge of themselves.
For more information about service opportunities, CMSA will be hosting information sessions on January 23 at 12pm in Miguel 218 and on January 24 at 5pm in Miguel 202.