Later this month, while many members of the William & Mary community will be going back home, locking up their offices, and beginning plans, jobs and vacations for the summer, 20 members of the Tribe will helping to rebuild the Ninth Ward in New Orleans.
In a deviation from what is generally typical in a William & Mary service trip, the group will include alumni and staff as well as student volunteers.
“We’re building a different type of service trip,” said student group leader and history/religion double major Taylor Harveycutter ’11 regarding the decision to open the trip up to those outside the current student body. “It will not only incorporate the same ideas of education, orientation and leading from previous trips, but also bring in different dynamics and different perspectives.”
The May Break participants will be working with local organization Common Ground Relief. The organization’s motto is “Solidarity not Charity,” and to that end the group works not only to rebuild homes but also to repair environmental damage and promote social justice. Harveycutter, who has been on five trips to New Orleans since her freshman year, said that she is impressed by the scope of CGR’s mission, and is looking forward to working with them for the first time.
“By adding in people with different perspectives and different backgrounds, it’s going to shed light on a new way of seeing the issue,” she said.
Also taking leadership roles on the trip are Aileen Aylward ’10, Daisy Weill ’10 and Kristina Snader who was a member of the class of 2010 at JMU. The three have been working with the Americorps VISTAs program in the year since their graduation, and have been working during their time at the College with Melody Porter, the associate director of the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship. The three recent graduates said they are very excited to see what this new trip can offer to those involved and those whom they’re helping.
“It was a fantastic experience to put together our team of 20,” said Aylward. “Each person has so much enthusiasm and curiosity in their own way; it’s been exciting learning about their backgrounds, motivations and expectations, and I can't wait to get to know them further. Traveling together, long hours of hard work, and reflecting on big questions really brings out incredible parts of people.”
All of the trip leaders said that they were excited to be traveling to New Orleans, which Harveycutter describes as a unique nexus point of social, political and environmental issues that surfaced in the wake of the Katrina disaster. Aylward agreed, saying that she hopes that everyone involved in the trip comes away with a greater understanding of the issues of poverty and inequality that were wrapped with the Hurricane in 2005.
She also joked about Harveycutter’s attachment to the city, calling the graduating senior a “NOLA aficionado” who had been pumping the other leaders full of New Orleans food, facts and culture in the lead up to their trip. Harveycutter accepted this characterization, and mentioned her family’s repeatedly voiced certainty that one day she’ll be living there.
“It’s a city that’s got its own soul,” she said. “It gets into your blood and you never want to leave it.”
The four staff members and sixteen current and former students depart for New Orleans on May 21, and Porter said she was excited to see what all members of the group will have to show for their time away and their time together.
“Our hope is that participants will gain greater insight into the poverty and inequality exposed by Hurricane Katrina, and its effects on human communities and the environment,” Porter said. “And along the way, we hope to build a strong team of Tribe members who are committed to working for good in the world.”