QUEENS, N.Y. - Three Red Storm student-athletes joined a team of 28 St. John's students who traveled to New Orleans, La., over the winter break, Jan. 5-10, to aid in the ongoing rebuilding efforts following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.
Sophomore Mike Iorio, of the men's lacrosse team, sophomore Linzee Sumrall, of the softball team and women's golf junior Renee Cloutier, joined the group of students made up of Student Government representatives, University Orientation Leaders, Resident Assistants and other student leaders from both the Queens and Staten Island campuses. The trip was organized by Catholic Charities and Operation Helping Hands.
"Mike, Renee and Linzee each brought something very unique to the group. The `roll up your sleeves and get down to work' mentality of the lacrosse team was clear as no task was too large for Mike to handle without complaint. Many students commented to me that they were inspired by his willingness to do whatever had to be done." said Lucy Pesce, Director, Leadership Development for Student-Athletes. "Renee's ability to connect our daily work with the larger mission of the University and our Vincentian commitment was humbling. She often referenced her experiences at St. John's and involvement with the women's golf team as pieces that helped her to better understand our purpose for this trip."
"Linzee's native appreciation of Southern culture and hospitality brought enthusiasm and understanding to our group as they experienced food, language, music and a culture different in various ways from what many of them were used to in New York. She represented St. John's well doing the service work, participating in the tour of the city and spending time with the local residents, a message clearly learned through her role on the softball team."
Pesce, along with four other administrators from both the Queens and Staten Island campuses' Student Affairs offices, led the student-athletes on their five day service trip. The group of students also joined other volunteers from Brown, University of Chicago, University of Illinois, St. Mary's, Canisius and 10 other schools to help make a difference in the Big Easy.
The small group of volunteers was assigned to seven homes damaged by the 2005 storm and in need of basic repair. Iorio, Cloutier and Sumrall helped with daily tasks such as weeding, washing windows and painting and caulking the exterior of the homes. The student-athletes also went on a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, the area most affected by the flooding when the levees broke.
"It was very clear that it was a tremendous experience for Mike," said head men's lacrosse coach Jason Miller. "I think he went down there under the impression that more would have been accomplished over the three years since Katrina. To see how much work still needs to be done was really an eye-opener for him."
"It was a great trip for a good cause. We helped out a lot of people in many different little ways. I thought we really made a difference down there. When Lucy [Pesce] mentioned it, I had an immediate interest," said Iorio. "The people we met and worked with told great stories about their experiences rebuilding. I was really impressed to see how everyone was nice and uplifting despite all the tragedy that happened."
Iorio worked mostly with the demolition and painting. He was so affected by his experience that he aims to return with Catholic Charities again in mid-May or in the late-summer, depending on how the lacrosse season pans out.
"When I go back, I am hoping to bring some of my lacrosse teammates to come with me, it was such a fulfilling experience," said Iorio.
For Sumrall, the trip was especially meaningful, as she is a native of Denham Springs, La.
"Linzee is a special kind of person that positively impacts most people she encounters," said head softball coach Amy Kvilhaug. "She thoroughly enjoys helping people so when I learned of her service work in New Orleans interacting with the residents and assisting to rebuild homes, it came as no surprise. I am sure she viewed the circumstance as an opportunity not only to improve people's lives but to share the culture of Louisiana to her fellow volunteers."
"The trip was a truly humbling and eye-opening experience," said Sumrall. "I realized the efforts of cleaning up and rebuilding New Orleans are still greatly needed. Even though I am from Louisiana, I was shocked to find such devastation still existed. I look forward to the opportunity of helping out the community once again and plan to revisit this summer."
At the end of each day of service, the student-athletes participated in a reflection sharing period where they were sometimes able to connect with the homeowners and local residents of the neighborhood.
"Being able to help families rebuild not only their homes but also their morale was something that allowed the spirit of our St. John's group to be enlivened," said Cloutier. "It was an incredible experience being able to embrace our St. John's Vincentian mission in an area that was affected and is still struggling from the wraths of Hurricane Katrina. It was a very eye-opening experience to see how much work still needs to be done three and a half years later. This service trip has definitely inspired me to do more service. Hopefully, I will be able to return back to New Orleans sometime soon to help out more. It is an incredible service and personal opportunity to do something impactful with your life and allowing you to grow not only as a person but also a student-athlete."
"St. John's and the women's golf team takes a lot of pride in its community service," said women's golf head coach Ambry Bishop-LaRosa. "Renee does multiple events and outings around campus and I was proud to see her make this trip. She represents the school and the team very well. Renee is a special individual. The trip has received great reviews and was a great time for the student-athletes that attended."