By Nicole Rodriguez & Maria Thomas, Asst. Production Editor & News Editor
During Winter break, three groups of students travelled to three distinct cities to spread love through acts of service.
The Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (L.O.V.E) is a program stemming from the Social Action Suite in Kelly Commons. The program is an immersive experience which promotes the Lasallian mission of concern for the poor and social justice.
This winter, the three groups went to New Orleans, Louisiana, El Paso, Texas and Flint Michigan.
Students are asked to give up their phones and be present in each moment, embracing the immersive nature of this experience. Those who attend L.O.V.E. have the unique opportunity to learn about different cultures in a hands-on way.
Students who are going on a L.O.V.E. trip spend months preparing and fundraising. It is clear that the students who visited New Orleans, El Paso and Flint found the hard work and preparation to be well worth it.
Annie Arriviello, a freshman marketing major, was one of seven people on the New Orleans L.O.V.E. trip. It was Arriviello’s first L.O.V.E trip, and she would not change a thing about the experience.
“Going on the L.O.V.E New Orleans trip was one of the best experiences of my life. The city of New Orleans is so beautiful. On our trip, we learned a lot about social and racial injustice. We visited countless nonprofits and spoke with so many different people about political issues. This trip inspired me to be an active member of my community and volunteer around NY. For anyone looking into going on a L.O.V.E trip, I highly recommend it. You’ll come back a better person than you left,” Arriviello said.
Arriviello said one of the most special parts of the trip was unplugging from technology and social media.
“We actually didn’t use our phones on the trip. We were practicing simple living, which was one of my favorite parts. It was so nice to be so present,” Arriviello said.
Camryn Holly, a junior communication major, said, “I was inspired to participate in a L.O.V.E. trip because a lot of my close friends have either gone on multiple L.O.V.E. trips or led them and came away with a lot of positive things to say about them, so I wanted to experience one for myself.”
Camryn describes that the main focus of the trip was to work with those on cleaning up the social and environmental effects of Hurricane Katrina.
“For the week that I was in New Orleans, myself and my team met with lots of local grassroots organizations and talked to them about their experiences. Most of them were fighting for things like environmental and racial justice, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Holly said.
Holly walked away from the experience understanding the mission of a L.O.V.E trip: to be immersed.
“It’s one thing to read about [Hurricane Katrina] and hear about it growing up, but it’s another thing completely to sit down with community members who have actually lived through it and talk to them about what it felt like and what they are aiming to accomplish going forward. And not only that, but how these systematic injustices were already so prevalent before Hurricane Katrina, and how the storm highlighted those injustices” Holly said.
When looking back on her experience, Holly encourages everyone to participate in a L.O.V.E trip.
“It really made me think deeply, not only about the systematic issues the community faced in New Orleans, but also how a lot of those same issues take place here in the Bronx as well, just in a different context,” Holly said. “I think it’s really valuable to have an experience not only where you’re learning so much and experiencing a new place, but where you can also apply it to life when you return to campus.”
The El Paso L.O.V.E. trip provided student participants with the opportunity to experience the El Paso and Ciudad Juàrez borderland through visits to local nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Students also gained a better understanding of the harsh realities of those impacted by living in the borderland through listening to their stories.
Senior education major Danielle Rivas was among the student participants on the El Paso trip this winter break.
“The experience was honestly different than anything I’ve ever done before,” Rivas said. “We were able to visit with individuals, like border patrol and immigration lawyers, to learn more about immigration in addition to getting to see firsthand what the situation actually is.”
By meeting with nonprofit organizations and government agencies, participants learned more about the complexities of immigration law, and that migration is not simply a black and white issue.
Sophomore history and peace and justice major Eunice Nazar further expanded on this idea.
“We were able to meet with many non profit organizations who shared a common goal, yet it was very interesting to see the many different strategies they took in terms of achieving it ––while one organization took a legal approach, another focused on providing shelter and another focused on teaching immigrants their rights through community organizing,” Nazar said. “They taught us the complexities of immigration law. We were able to experience how it felt to cross the border and we were able to better understand the true struggles many asylum seekers and undocumented individuals face,” Nazar said.
Nazar described herself as being blessed enough to have partaken in the El Paso L.O.V.E. trip.
“From learning deeper about migration issues, to meeting amazing advocates and making new friends, this trip was such a great experience. This trip helps to shape you as an individual and as an advocate. It truly showed me the beauty of what happens when communities work together towards fighting for those struggling to be heard,” Nazar said. “This trip has further taught me that there are many strategies one can take in order to contribute and fight against the injustices that are occurring.”
Nazar aspires to lead a L.O.V.E. trip in the near future herself and encourages anyone interested to partake in this monumental experience.
“I wish everyone can take part in this experience. It’s one thing to learn from textbooks, it’s another to hear someones story firsthand. One of the ladies from the organizations said something that is so true––seeing is revolutionary. So go and see,” Nazar said.”
Co-leaders Jana Clark and Brianna Remache led this year’s L.O.V.E. trip to Flint over winter break. The team composed of six other Manhattan College students and supervisor Rachel Bowers. The group applied their passions for environmental justice work as they explored the water crisis that has burdened the city of Flint, and its intersections with race and poverty.
Throughout the duration of this service immersion trip, students were able to engage with local community partner organizations such as Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, Flint Development Center, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village and St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center. Students also had the opportunity to meet with the newly-elected mayor of Flint and experience Flint’s history and culture by visiting the Flint Institute of Arts as well as the infamous Flint Farmers Market. In addition, they attended a local community college basketball game, volunteering at a public charter school and listened to guest speakers at the Firestone Center where they stayed.
Clark described the most rewarding aspect of the trip to be seeing the experience come together as a whole.
“Going on such an experience requires at least a semester of preparation, whether that means attending training, conducting weekly team meetings, hosting fundraisers, or preparing reflection materials to utilize during the trip itself,” Clark said. “In the end, every hour of work put in to make this trip happen was more than worth it, and I could not have done it without the aid of my co-leader and trip advisor,” Clark said.
While each L.O.V.E. trip is unique within itself, the strengthened drive to make a difference and inspire others to do the same is common among all student participants.
Senior civil engineering major Miah Cohall, became extremely interested in learning about the water crisis and how this, among other issues such as job loss, population decline, and educational system failure, have directly affected the residents of the city.
“The whole trip was incredibly rewarding, as I felt that we truly did help the community partners that we worked with. For example, at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, we helped clean up the game room space and put together different game tables for the students to enjoy. Program Director Linnell McKenny was incredibly grateful for our help and stated that the room had looked the same since the summer, and would not have been changed without us. From our short time at the center, the room became functionable and was ready for students to enjoy and use for the start of the programs on Monday. Reactions like McKenny’s were seen by each community partner we worked with, and it felt amazing to be welcomed by the members of Flint in such a short amount of time, and assist with whatever needs were presented, in any way we could. Flint is a city of extremely passionate and talented residents, who many are using their gifts to create positive change and help the next generation understand and utilize their full potential. Meeting such inspirational individuals reinstalled my hope for humanity, and provided me with more passion and purpose for my future career in environmental engineering,” Cohall said.
For junior civil engineering major Matt Sweeney, the Flint L.O.V.E. trip held a lasting impact.
“I believe that I was able to glean lessons from my experience that I hope to use in my future career endeavors, carrying forward the spirit of Flint to all that I do. We grew together as a team and I genuinely believe that everyone on my team are fantastic human beings that will make a tremendous impact in bettering our world for all. The same is to be said for the different folks we worked with in Flint. L.O.V.E. Flint has sealed for me a commitment to improving water quality around our nation and planet so that no person shall have to suffer from water-related diseases one day,” Sweeney said.
According to each student participant, L.O.V.E. trips are an experience that you will forever remember and cherish.
“I would strongly encourage everyone to participate in a L.O.V.E. trip because it is a truly unique experience unlike any other,” Clark said. “These experiences encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and lean into discomfort; you won’t regret it. It is an opportunity to meet new people both from the college and from the community you will be immersed in for a week. No matter what your major or interests may be, there is something for everyone to learn and explore,” Clark said.