“We make a living by what we do, but a life by what we give.”
This quote, by Sir Winston Churchill, nicely sums up the school’s annual pilgrimage to New Orleans, La., over Thanksgiving break to assist in continuing relief efforts for those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
I joined 14 other students and 3 faculty members on this trip, where we had the opportunity to witness the incredible amount of devastation that remains even six years after the storm and more importantly, to help misplaced families move forward on their long journey to return home.
Our group spent four days working on improving houses in differing states of disrepair and also joined together with more than 200 other volunteers to construct a playground from scratch in just six hours. It was quite sobering to realize that our work had barely scratched the surface and to see how much still needed to be done. While it’s hard to choose my favorite thing about the experience, I think I can vouch for everyone who participated that the relationships we developed with the people of New Orleans and with each other was an extraordinary highlight, and left us all changed for good.
As any one who has done any type of service can attest, this is probably the most rewarding part of helping others.
It’s the idea that no matter what kind of car we drive, where we went to school, the color of our skin or our personal beliefs, we are all connected to each other as humans. By giving freely of our own time and energy, we strengthen that bond and open ourselves up to be impacted by the stories and experiences of often-complete strangers.
Service also reminds us of what is important in life in a way that nothing else can. It shows us that we should not focus on the size of our houses, what type of phones or shoes we own or how much money we have in the bank, but rather on the love of those closest to us and on living each moment to its absolute fullest.
All of our material possessions will come and go, but these intangibles of love and happiness are the things that actually make our life worth living, and we must see to it that we preserve them in the same way we take care of our favorite clothes.
It is ironic that those who have the least are the ones who seem to grasp this concept the best. The less fortunate, like the family we had the pleasure to work with, whose home was devastated by Katrina, seem to have the greatest appreciation for what they do have and remain positive in the face of incredible challenges.
These people are amazingly strong and inspire us to be thankful for the great opportunities we are given each day and often take for granted, including the chance to have a college education.
Every second of this service experience to New Orleans was memorable, and I commend our Service Learning Department and Mercyhurst for giving students the chance to continue to travel there and to so many other spots around the globe.
These trips allow us to escape our separate world inside the gates of campus and connect with the wider world.
It’s just another way Mercyhurst sets itself apart from other schools, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of all the service trips it has to offer – they will definitely change your life.