By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Twenty-one Morinville Community High School students spent their spring break in New Orleans to learn a bit about the history and culture of the region and to offer a lot of help to those affected by Hurricane Katrina which devastated the area in 2005.
During the school’s mission trip students worked hands-on in the humanitarian work still being conducted more than half a decade after the initial devastation. Students spent several days of the trip working to repair damaged residences, assisting the work of the Catholic parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
MCHS Teacher Neil Korotash said the trip was a rewarding experience for all concerned and that students had an active week. Students arrived late Mar. 24 and eased into their trip on the Sunday by attending a mass and taking a cruise on the Mississippi River. That was followed by four days of work and one day of spending time with some New Orleans children.
“We worked on three different homes while we were there, trying to make life a bit easier,” the teacher said. “Each family had a different circumstance. In one case [it was] to get them back in their home, and in the other two [it was] just to help them make some repairs in their home.”
But it wasn’t all work. Korotash said the students spent the Thursday at Cathedral Academy, a Catholic elementary school in New Orleans. “That was probably a highlight for a lot of the students – spending time with some of these kids,” Korotash said. “The kids came from very different backgrounds from what we have here in Morinville.”
MCHS students were told 80 per cent of Cathedral Academy’s student population came from broken and troubled homes. “Most of the kids at that elementary school had seen more than one person die in their lives, either shot or killed. There were three kids in the school that week who were dealing with someone in their family who had been shot or killed. And you’d never know it from these kids,” Korotash said, adding the elementary school students just latched onto the MCHS students. “These kids just wouldn’t leave our students alone, and then to find out later on what some of these kids were going through was truly amazing.”
One student who was particularly affected by the visit to the Catholic school was Grade 9 student Samantha (Sam) Ringuette, a participant who prior to the trip said she believed the opportunity to go to New Orleans was not only an opportunity to help other people but an opportunity to bring some positive change to her life.
“I got to see how kids could have such a bad life at home but they could still come to school, and they could put all their troubles behind them,” Ringuette said. “It just showed me that you can do that here, too. It rubs off. After that day, we were just so happy.”
The Grade 9 student said she has brought the experience back to Morinville with her and is now viewing her surroundings from a different viewpoint. “I can tell now who may have a bad background in their own home just from looking at them,” Ringuette said, noting she will be more observant now of fellow students who may be in need of someone to talk to. “I find that talking to people helps a lot. Just letting people talk to you.”
Grade 12 student and MCHS Student Council President Brennan Fitzgerald will also be applying the lessons learned down south here at home. The experience was a moving and rewarding one for him.
“Prior to the trip I think everyone was unaware of what exactly we were going to feel when we got down there,” he said. “Everyone kind of knew we were going to help people and feel good about ourselves, and maybe hope to gain a new perspective. But nothing could prepare us for what we really felt. It’s just so much fulfilment and so much love that we felt down there, that we experienced down there.”
Fitzgerald said a personal highlight of the trip for him was having breakfast with the homeless people who would come into the building the students were staying at. “Lots of people had a rough life just like here, people involved in crime or drugs or things like that, but also people who had lost a lot of things during the hurricane,” he said. “I met one lady who was living in the projects who told me her house was being demolished in a year and she wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere. A lot of pain, a lot of sadness, but overwhelming joy and hope and faith.”
The student council president said coming back to Morinville and being able to appreciate what he has here will help him apply what he and the other students learned in New Orleans, particularly with respect to listening to people and loving them.
“Being the student council president, I can see areas in the framework of council where I can apply some things that I learned down there,” Fitzgerald said. “For example – the idea of talking with people who need an ear. We have so many people in the school who I’ve never talked to. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know their story or their names. I think if it was easy to talk to somebody who once killed a person, then I should be able to talk to anybody in these hallways. I hope to bring that aspect back to council – making this school feel like a home. Making it feel like a place of welcoming and of love and faith. That’s what I hope to bring back.”