Biking in 90 degree heat with 100 percent humidity from one urban compost pile to another may not be every teenager’s idea of the perfect summer adventure, but that is exactly what five intrepid Sacred Heart students and one equally committed teacher did in New Orleans as part of the “Biking For A Sustainable Future” network service project this past July. The inspiration for this project came from several Convent of the Sacred Heart students in Greenwich, Connecticut who, in the end, were not able to participate. Instead young women from The Josephinum, Woodlands, Newton Country Day School, Duchesne Academy, Omaha and Stone Ridge and a young teacher from Newton all responded to the challenge of exploring New Orleans on bike to see first-hand how communities there were dealing with the ecological challenges that face the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in particular.
Participants lived, dorm-style, at Duchesne House for Volunteers where they gathered every morning in the chapel for a fifteen minute reflection designed to help them see the world as the home we share with all humans and all other creatures. Around 8:30 AM the group pulled out of the driveway wearing helmets and small back packs containing their journal, a first aid kit and a sack lunch. Each person also carried two water bottles and plenty of sunscreen.
By design, the first day was the most difficult, involving a brief ferry ride to Algiers and an hour and a half of weeding in a beautiful community garden followed by a 10-mile ride along the levee and through gritty industrial areas to a local park where they waded in a bayou and napped under some trees before returning to New Orleans. The group covered approximately 24 miles that day and arrived home tired, sweaty and proud.
Each day that followed contained a mixture of service (weeding, turning compost piles), learning (through visits to local non-profits to learn about their work, touring the Katrina exhibit and thought provoking DVDs at night) and fun (swimming in a wave pool, paddling a canoe in City Park, taking a swamp tour). And of course, since we were in New Orleans we also made a point of eating lots of local food: beignets at Café du Monde, Red Beans and Rice provided by the New Orleans Associates, Snowballs at a nearby sidewalk stand.
At the end of each day, the students gathered for a prayer service which they prepared themselves, during which each person was asked how she answered the reflection question from the morning and when or where she experienced one of the Goals and Criteria being lived out during the day.
While it was wonderful to be outdoors, exploring a new city, getting lots of exercise it was even more moving to see these young women growing in self-confidence and building relationships with other young Sacred Heart women based on values that will help them to become builders of a better future for all of God’s creation.
~ Diane Roche, RSCJDirector, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office