Emily Hammack ’23 and Reagan Raffo ’23 attended the Acadiana to Zydeco: A Glimpse into NOLA through Service at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Each summer provides opportunities for students to recharge and explore their interests. As part of the Sacred Heart Network, Stone Ridge students are able to participate in Summer Service Projects that bring together students from across the Network to examine various social justice issues. Rooted in the criteria of Goal III, Summer Service Projects are “immersive learning experiences that promote the inherent dignity of all humans and deepen students’ understanding of service to others,” (rscj.org). Several Stone Ridge participants this year are reporting on their experiences engaging in critical analysis and enacting their civic responsibility through direct service in their selected project. Our first in this series is written by Emily Hammack ’23, who attended the “Acadiana to Zydeco: A Glimpse into NOLA through Service” with fellow student Reagan Raffo ’23 at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Acadiana to Zydeco: A Glimpse into NOLA through Service

By Emily Hammack ’23

My trip to New Orleans can easily connect to the essential question for social action, "How is my well-being bound up in yours?” Down in NOLA, our experiences connected to the people we were helping, like the houseless people to whom we handed out sandwiches. We interacted with New Orleans and dedicated a portion of our time in kinship there through our actions. NOLA is different from Maryland. When I went there, through my experiences I became aware of a connection between myself, New Orleans, and its people. I saw the perspective of the people who lived there through small and large experiences. I tried new foods like gumbo, drove on the rough, bumpy streets, and popped in and out of shops all the while enjoying the twisting, beautiful branches of the oak trees. Additionally, I learned about the pain and death people faced after Hurricane Katrina. How it damaged the environment and how the community slowly started coming back. Even though not everything I did there was service-related, a part of being there and living there temporarily was a part of my learning.

What did you learn during the trip?
After facing such hardship from Katrina, how could people still live there? It was on the day our group was working for Second Harvest Food Bank that I met a man who answered this question. After hearing from an alum (from the Sacred Heart school in NOLA) about the New Orleans culture and a bit of history as well (mostly the impact of Hurricane Katrina) I had been wondering, why? Why do people stay here? He said it was “the people.” It seems the people that live there create a reason for others to stay. It is a welcoming and caring community. We should strive to create a community-based in Christ's love. It is a lovely and beautiful thing I think we can influence in our lives through small or large actions. We should try to strive in our everyday lives to create an environment for others inspired by the Gospel truth. No evil. No hate. No problems. It is the best way we humans could hope to exist. Of course, New Orleans isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but I think that it is an important lesson to be learned. How we interact with others and all the small things we choose can affect our community in a more holistic way. 

What takeaways did you have that were unexpected?
I'd like to mention a quote that was presented during one of our reflection periods. It goes, "Be artisans of change in our blessed and broken world," which I find captures an essential essence of actively living the Christian life. It also connects to Goal 1, having a personal and active faith in God. If you are engaging in a relationship with our Lord, the love you feel and understand affects your desire to interact with others. You love others, a love that can change pain, hate, and sadness. Our world is made up of these aspects as we humans are not perfect, but by embracing that love we come to know through God, we can inspire goodness, bring joy, and comfort, and unify our brothers and sisters. 

How will you incorporate what you learned?
On my trip, we were simply driving down the road to our next destination when we saw a man holding a sign asking for food. We were able to make an act of service that hadn't even been planned by our chaperones and provided food for him. This is the type of life I want to live. One that is able to see an opportunity to serve and then complete this service. Big or small, as long as I am helping that is what matters. I want to strive to live out a life that constantly makes choices that help others with mercy and compassion while also creating a caring, positive environment in the communities I engage with. Then like a domino effect, it will hopefully spread and I'll continue to try to be the best version of myself. I hope to jump on opportunities to help someone with a problem, hold the door for someone, or simply just be joyful and engage with others. These are all moments that can add up. They are all moments that I can use to add love to the lives of others.

Hammack and Raffo in NOLA