Love in Action: Alumni Group Brings Storm Relief to the Caribbean
March 13, 2018 — It started out with a simple desire to help people in the Caribbean, parts of which were devastated last fall by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Said Marie Wicks ’86, “I kept thinking, we’re needed, and we have to go! So let’s put our Marist heritage of service into action and help those in need. Love in action is the best way to show our gratitude.” So on January 20, Ms. Wicks (a past president of Marist’s Alumni Association) and three fellow alumni – Jack Wicks ’86, Grace Camporeale ’12, and Michael Johnson ’13 – set sail for a one-week “Cruise for the Caribbean,” a hurricane relief voyage organized by Fathom Travel, a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation offering purposeful travel opportunities. Along with 150 other Fathom passengers on board the Crown Princess, the alumni assisted with recovery efforts in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and the Dominican Republic.
In St. Maarten, they worked in partnership with the Nature Foundation to clean up Guana Bay Beach, a nesting location for three species of sea turtles laying eggs in April. The area had been damaged due to construction and debris resulting from the hurricanes. The group also spent time supporting the work of the Art Heals Program, a non-profit organization providing children and adults art and music therapy to help heal stress and trauma. In St. Thomas (part of the U.S. Virgin Islands), they joined with local organizations to distribute much-needed supplies, including diapers, infant formula, and Pedialyte. At a Boys & Girls Club in a struggling community, the Marist contingent rolled up their sleeves to help rebuild structures, repaint, make repairs, and clean up the never-ending debris. They also had the opportunity to spend time with the children who spend after-school hours there. Observed Johnson, “A trip like this is not so much about escaping as connecting.” He continued, “We want people in the Caribbean to know that communities from around the world have heard their stories, carried them in their hearts, and are here to help.”
Moving on to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, the volunteers traveled to a mountainside village directly impacted by the hurricane. Here, they helped build two new cinderblock homes by mixing and pouring concrete for the floors. One house belonged to a 103-year-old man and his 86-year-old daughter; the man had spent 40 years building his former home, literally one cinderblock at a time, as he was able to afford it. Others in the group helped in reforestation efforts by planting mahogany tree saplings, while another group spent time in the rural community’s school to help with English language classes.
Ms. Wicks found the experience purposeful, meaningful, and illuminating. “To make a difference, even in small ways, matters. And nothing beats the feeling of contributing to the communities you’re visiting while working alongside the locals and sharing smiles and stories.” During their trip, the volunteers also found time for beautiful beaches and fun in the sun. Antigua offered the opportunity for unstructured time to explore the island and enjoy local food and crafts. Noted Ms. Wicks, “The Caribbean is such a special place, with unmatched natural beauty. And I was struck by the resilience of the people we met along the way. To see them rebuilding and persevering is an inspiration.”
Fathom has additional social impact sailings planned, including a seven-day cruise to the Western Caribbean leaving on July 28. Its destinations include Grand Cayman; Roatán, Honduras; Belize City; and Cozumel. Ms. Wicks will once again be setting sail, and the College’s Alumni Office is helping her publicize the opportunity. She is hoping that other interested Marist graduates will join her on an innovative, fun, and purposeful vacation. She added, “More than ever, I believe we need cultural empathy and service to others in order to create a more positive atmosphere in our world.” And socially impactful travel can play a role in achieving this goal. Reflecting back on his experience during the January cruise, Johnson said, “We witnessed firsthand how a cruise ship could be more than just a mansion of opulence, a gilded cage that separates us from the outside world; a ship can be a bridge, connecting individuals and entire communities.”
Located on the banks of the historic Hudson River and at its Florence, Italy branch campus, Marist College is a comprehensive, independent institution grounded in the liberal arts. Its mission is to “help students develop the intellect, character, and skills required for enlightened, ethical, and productive lives in the global community of the 21st century.” Marist is consistently recognized for excellence by The Princeton Review (Colleges That Create Futures and The Best 381 Colleges), U.S. News & World Report (9th Best Regional University/North), Kiplinger’s Personal Finance (“Best College Values”), and others. Though now independent, Marist remains committed to the ideals handed down from its founders, the Marist Brothers: excellence in education, a sense of community, and a commitment to service. Marist educates approximately 5,000 traditional-age undergraduate students and 1,400 adult and graduate students in 47 undergraduate majors and 14 graduate programs, including fully online MBA, MPA, MS, and MA degrees.