PAC students help struggling NOLA community

By Daniella Aldaco
Pulse Staff Reporter

PAC students tear down moldy walls at local church in NOLA that was impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Arianna Lay.

Palo Alto College hosted its first alternative Spring Break trip this year. Nine students and a campus adviser traveled to New Orleans by van from March 13 to March 17. It was not a typical Spring Break party trip. Instead, students helped a community that is still recovering after being hit by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

Arianna Lay, the advising team leader of the SEED Advising Center at PAC, supervised the trip. Five of the nine students were part of the Honors Program and four submitted an application through an invitation posted on OrgSync.

“The trip was about these students dedicating their time off, instead of kicking back for Spring Break. It was about giving back and learning about themselves,” said Lay.

Photo by Arianna Lay

Lay and the students participated in a number of service projects, giving back to a town in need. They worked with a non-profit organization called NOLA Tree Project that protects and saves trees that were directly impacted. One of their activities was to visit a park, where they treated trees being suffocated by vines.

Many buildings in New Orleans were destroyed by the hurricane. Some of those buildings were part of a local Baptist church. The church lost its sanctuary, and some of the education buildings had mold growing in the walls. Lay and the students tore down those walls for future rebuilding.

“Hurricane Katrina was over 10 years ago, and you would think that there’s been a lot of progress done since then, but the reality is that there’s still a lot of work to do, so it’s good to raise awareness,” said Honors Student Mitchell Alvarez De La Rosa, an Engineering major.

On their last day, students helped out at a local elementary school, a KIPP Academy. They organized their uniform closet and did inventory on the clothing. That evening they worked with another non-profit organization, Project Homecoming. They were able to visit the lower Ninth Ward, an area of New Orleans that was severely hit. The Ninth Ward also offers anyone to tour a museum that shows the flood levels of more than 8 feet.

“One of the cool things about the Ninth Ward is that a famous celebrity, Brad Pitt, actually came down and had the opportunity to install new houses,” said Honors Student Kevin Mendoza, a Science and Engineering major.

The students were able to experience a different culture while creating lasting friendships. They tried new foods and met new people.

“After coming back from fixing the church, I went for a run and this young lady approached me. She said in Spanish, ‘Hola! Cómo está usted? (Hi! How are you?)’ We sat down and started talking. She told me she was from Texas but went to Louisiana to help her family, and she stayed there ever since,” said Mendoza.

After Mendoza exchanged history with the young lady, he found out that in New Orleans it’s tradition to eat red beans and rice on Mondays. Just like in San Antonio, where it is tradition to eat barbacoa and Big Red on Sundays. The reason for this tradition in Louisiana is because back then women and men would put beans and rice on to cook while they did the slave work at the plantation houses. That way, when they finished they were able to go home and have dinner ready.

Opportunities like these are offered by PAC, and not many students are aware of them. Student Life paid for the Alternative Spring Break trip. An invitation was sent out on OrgSync for anyone who wished to attend.

“I found that spreading the information about this trip was obscure. They sent a message through OrgSync, which not a lot of students check regularly,” said Alvarez De La Rosa.

Being allowed to experience the world outside of a textbook allows growth in an individual and creates lasting friendships, as well. OrgSync keeps students updated on upcoming events. It’s easily accessible through ACES or from the app, which anyone can download onto a smart phone. Stay updated because PAC will offer another Alternative Spring Break next year. As far as the location, it is still being planned.

For more information you can contact Student Life.

“Take a risk. Get out of your comfort zone. It gives opportunity to reflect on your own life and your own community,” said Lay.

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