PMC Students Inspired Hope in "The Big Easy"

Students, Alumna, and Staff on "Alternative Spring Break"


From March 15-21, 2009, Pine Manor College students traded in their beach towels and sandals for work tools and work boots to experience a spring break like never before in “The Big Easy” – New Orleans, LA.

Through fundraising and collaborative efforts the Center for Inclusive Leadership and Social Responsibility (Cilsr) along with Gulf Coast Volunteers for the Long Haul, which is headed by Rev. Mary Harrington, 10 students, one alumna and two staff members ventured on a life changing journey. “…most amazing and inspiring week in New Orleans,” Cilsr Director, Whitney Retallic stated upon her return.

During the course of the week each student was asked to sign up to prepare a meal for the group of 50, which included students from Hampshire College and Smith College, with four others. Each morning the group arose by 7:30a.m., enjoyed breakfast, packed a bag lunch and headed for their worksite, that was posted the night before. Much of the group gained new valuable skills at their worksites that included tutoring at local elementary schools; gutting houses (emptying it to its foundation), tiling floors, grouting floors, fiber glassing buildings and painting to name a few. Students were shocked to see that there was still so much to be done. Senior – Visual Arts major, History minor Samantha Cunningham was one, “You never knew what you were going to see [when] going to the worksite, but the people always showed hope for a new life.”

Hope was definitely present. Neighbors of the families’ home the groups worked in would often come by just to say, “Hello.” They may not have known everyone by name but they knew why we were there and they made sure we knew they appreciated it. At some worksites the group had the honor of working side-by-side with the home owner; sophomore – Social and Political Systems major Sheila Martinez was one of the lucky few, “After seeing everything from the residents’ perspective, I have a new appreciation for life and everything I have.”

To be sure the group didn’t go to sleep with overwhelming emotions the group participated in guided reflection activities in the middle and at the end of the work week. The group also enjoyed social and historical activities, meeting people from the surrounding areas, getting to know each other and going on outings to historic sites such as Snug Harbor. Snug Harbor is a popular jazz club in New Orleans where they witnessed (and some performed with) jazz singer Charmaine Neville. We were also able to go to the Dooky Chase Restaurant which is known for its “Creole cuisine,” antiques, original African American art and famous chef, Leah Chase.