On January 8, 2017, 14 collegiate women representing 14 chapters from across the United States and Canada took flight for the inaugural Alpha Gamma Delta Service Immersion Experience. They landed in New Orleans, Louisiana and were greeted by two alumnae facilitators and me, an International Headquarters staff member. Together, we embarked on a six day experience loaded with learning, community service, reflection, intentional discussion and a lot of laughter.
We kicked off the week with a driving tour of New Orleans to learn more about the city and its people, history and culture. We learned about the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 levee failure that continues to scar the city today.
After learning about the city and reflecting on its culture, we jumped into serving the community. We started off at the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation, which exists to preserve, protect, enhance and restore the wetlands and contiguous lands of St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans proper. We spent the day planting Cyprus trees along the 40 Arpent Canal. The area surrounding the canal was completely destroyed during Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed, but has since been redeveloped. We worked with our host, Rich, to plant nearly 90 trees. Check us out on the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation’s Facebook page! After spending the day serving the environment we returned to Camp Restore, our home for the week, to reflect and recharge for our next service project.
Our second service assignment at the Giving Hope Food Pantry, shifted our focus from the environment to the people of New Orleans. The majority of Giving Hope patrons have to choose between necessary medications and buying food. For these citizens, the food pantry has given them hope and allowed them to live without the stress of being food insecure. Through partnerships with major groups such as Feeding America and Wal-Mart, Giving Hope is able to provide free boxes of groceries and hot meals to the public five days a week. Our group was able to serve in both the food pantry and hot meal distribution center. In the food pantry, we helped pack boxes with food and home products. After they were packed, we helped patrons carry out their boxes and load their vehicles. Throughout our day, we packed and distributed more than 100 boxes of groceries. Meanwhile, in the hot meal distribution center, we helped prepare more than 500 hot meals that would later be distributed to those in need. Spending the day at Giving Hope was humbling and thought provoking; it lead to great conversations and reflections which prepared us for our third day of service.
Our final service assignment tied together our newfound knowledge of New Orleans culture and serving the people of the city. The Arc of New Orleans Mardi Gras Recycling Center focuses on providing jobs to people with developmental disabilities, while supporting tradition and culture in an environmentally friendly manner. Did you know approximately 2,000 pounds of beads are thrown out at each of the 50 parades in New Orleans throughout carnival season? This is one of the many reasons the Mardi Gras Recycling Center is so critical. Last year they collected, sorted and repackaged more than 175,000 pounds of beads for community celebrations. Working alongside the employees of the center, we were able to sort nearly 5,000 pounds of beads in one day.
We spent our final afternoon in New Orleans reflecting in City Park. The collegiate women had the opportunity to create and refine a project based on their passions and drive to give back to their communities. The focus areas of these projects ran the gamut, but included sustainability, zero cost housing for the homeless, empowering foster children and providing mental health education for rural areas. These projects illustrated the diverse backgrounds and interests of the Alpha Gams who took part in the Service Immersion Experience, but one thing is for sure, each idea was just as inspiring as the last.
After six inspiring, empowering and Purpose-driven days, we went our separate ways. We left New Orleans with new knowledge, friendships and a refreshed focus on the importance of contributing to the world’s work. On behalf of the entire 2017 Service Immersion Experience, I would like to thank the Alpha Gamma Delta Foundation, and all of their donors, for granting us the opportunity to come together as sisters and impact our world.
Karmen Simon, M.Ed.,
Chapter Development Manager
Zeta Epsilon—Michigan Technological University