By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Twenty-one Morinville Community High School students will be heading to New Orleans this March 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 will work hands-on in the humanitarian work still being conducted more than half a decade after the initial devastation. Students will spend several days of the trip working in a soup kitchen and food bank as well as helping to repair damaged residences, assisting the work of the Catholic parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Organizers of the trip say 70 per cent of families in that area lost their homes.
For Grade 9 student Samantha (Sam) Ringuette the opportunity to go to New Orleans is not only an opportunity to help other people; it’s an opportunity to bring some positive change to her life, something she said is a component of the trip’s purpose. “[It’s] to change your attitude and perspective on life,” she said. “Seeing people who are not as fortunate as we are in Canada and who have gone through rough times, and how they cope and how I would cope with the stress.”
Grade 12 student Brennan Fitzgerald said he’d originally been planning on going on the school social trip to Europe but opted for New Orleans instead. “When this came up I liked the idea of not just going for yourself,” he said. “The trip to Europe would definitely be something fun for me. I love history, but something about New Orleans. I’m not a fan of the States and I know they’re still struggling down there.” Fitzgerald said his sister recently returned from a mission trip to Mexico and seemed changed by the experience, more open to helping at home and more involved to that end. “I think it [the mission trip] definitely has the possibility of changing your attitude. Happiness is the currency of the world.”
Although MCHS students have long been involved in spreading a little happiness, helping when and where they can in Morinville, it is believed the trip south of the border will make them stronger advocates for helping at home on their return. But for Fitzgerald there is an understanding of the importance to always remember needs extend beyond local and regional boundaries.
“I find we get so wrapped up in our own lives and our own immediate area that we forget about a bigger picture,” Fitzgerald said. “I think this missions trip is really addressing that fact that there is so much more out there, and there’s so many more people that need help. If we can bring everyone up to a certain standard, then I think the world would be a better place.”
For Ringuette helping away from home involves helping herself broaden her perspective and skillset, tools she is planning to bring back to the community. “We’ll have a different perspective on life and we’ll be able to bring back what we’ve learned helping people,” Ringuette said. “Maybe we can make our programs better and include more of the town than just those who need it – those who are hiding their troubles.”
More funds needed
While MCHS students are looking to offer some big help in the Big Easy, they are hoping for a little help at home to fund the mission trip. Teacher Neil Korotash said cost of the trip is $40,000 and that students and their families are personally contributing approximately $10,000.
“We’re trying to raise about $30,000 in the community,” Korotash said, adding students have already fundraised $17,000 of that amount. Students have held bake sales, conducted a bottle drive and even served as waiters and waitresses at last fall’s art gala at the cultural centre to make the trip happen. Korotash said students will be visiting local businesses in the coming weeks to appeal to them for support as well as holding additional fundraising events at the school over the next two months. “I think one of the things about the mission trip is – yes, we are going to be helping the people in New Orleans,” he said. “There’s still 200,000 people that haven’t returned home and we’re going to be doing a lot of good work down there. But we’re bringing 21 youth from the Morinville community down there that are going to have an experience that they’re never going to forget, an experience that’s hopefully going to have a lasting impact on them in terms of empathy, in terms of coming together as community, and supporting others in need. I think going away to do that and having that sort of intensive week of doing this is a little bit different than volunteering here and there around the community.”
Korotash said it is hoped the trip will give the 21 students an opportunity to further learn to be responsible and contributing members of the community on their return, more aware of the needs around them.
The New Orleans mission trip is geared to be an annual event within the Greater Saint Albert Catholic School District. Last year’s inaugural venture saw two other Catholic high schools in the division heading to New Orleans to help. The 21 MCHS students will be accompanied by three teachers and three members of Oblate Youth Ministries from MCHS. Trip Organizers say Oblate Youth Ministries has been a strong presence in GSACRD schools for the past five years, reaching out, mentoring and celebrating with students and staff from all the district’s schools.