Students at école Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d'Youville (ESSMY) have been fundraising since last year for an upcoming trip to New Orleans where they plan to help rebuild some of the homes damaged by hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Some 20 students from the school will leave St. Albert on Feb. 5 and spend the next eight days in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward repairing and painting homes.
They'll begin each day by serving breakfast to local homeless people.
Vice-principal Danielle Karaki said the trip is a reflection of the life of service led by the school's patron saint, St. Marguerite d'Youville.
"She lived a life of service and our school model is 'Dignity, Service and Respect' so it's just a matter of getting kids to light that fire within them to help them live a life of service," Karaki said.
"In reaching out to another community, we'll build relationships with those down there in New Orleans and we'll serve a community in need," she said.
She said students are just $4,000 away from the $40,000 needed for the trip.
Fundraising began last year and included selling grocery gift cards, a 24-hour Wake-a-Thon and participating in the Mayor's Walk for Charity, efforts run in conjunction with the Oblate Youth Ministry, which will join the students next month.
"We've worked it out with them and we've raised money and some of that money has come back for the trip," Karaki said.
Students also received some support from local businesses in the community.
The trip, she said, also has a spiritual element and students be working with a local parish community in New Orleans.
"There is a lot of need in our local community as well and by going down there it's just letting them know that we can reach out and that they can continue doing that when they get back," said Karaki, who said she is grateful to the community for their support.
"It's a great team building activity."
St. Albert high also New Orleans-bound
In late March, 20 students from St. Albert Catholic High School will also travel to New Orleans to help rebuild homes devastated by the hurricane.
"We are trying to bring more media attention to New Orleans since they've kind of been forgotten over the past few years," said Vanessa Peynenburg, a Grade 11 student at the school.
Students depart on March 22 and return April 1.
"We want to help rebuild some houses and some playgrounds and clean up some streets since there is still about 50,000 homes that haven't been dealt with," said Peynenburg.
She said students will stay in a homeless shelter and will help out wherever they are needed.
"It's definitely not what we're used to but I think that's all part of the experience as well, just to be exposed to what so many of the people down there have been exposed to," she said.
While Peynenburg said most people watched the events of hurricane Katrina unfolding on television, she said they can't really understand what residents of the city went through until meeting them face to face.
"Unfortunately there are not many natural disasters around the world that we are exposed to … but the emotional connection is lacking when you just see it on TV," she said. "I'm hoping that once we're there, we'll understand it more."
So far, students have raised $15,000 of the $40,000 needed but several more fundraisers are planned in January and February.
The first is a 24-hour Hockey-a-Thon on January 27-28 at the school's outdoor rink. The second event, on Feb. 4, is a silent auction and gala that takes place at the school.
Peynenburg said she is excited about the trip and is ready for anything that comes her way.
"I know there is only 20 of us but hopefully we can make a bit of a change while we're there."