Freshman sociology major Alex Epstein is planning a service trip for Temple students and North Philadelphians.
In 2006, Alex Epstein took a trip with about 50 students from his New York City high school to New Orleans to assist in the post-Hurricane Katrina efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Upon his arrival, the current freshman sociology major realized he’d gotten into something much larger than he initially expected.
Epstein helped gut and rebuild numerous homes. He knocked on the doors of those who had returned and spoke with them about what they had endured, in hopes of convincing them to attend survivor council meetings held within the community. He also became exposed to the injustice that residents of the Ninth Ward faced.
Wealthy neighborhoods remained intact due to their highly sophisticated levee systems as opposed to the Lower Ninth Ward, which was only protected by a mere 6-foot wall of concrete. Despite this factor, the government remains reluctant to assist those living in the Ninth Ward, although the French Quarter has long been repaired and lively.
After the 2006 experience, Epstein decided he could not walk away from such an overlooked dilemma and created his nonprofit organization, the New York 2 New Orleans Coalition, in December 2007. Since then, he has organized 22 trips for more than 500 high school students in New York City and has created a community service and internship program so students can get involved in their own communities.
Now that he’s in Philadelphia, he is expanding his efforts. This year, Epstein organized two groups of students to go down to New Orleans during the winter break: one group of Temple students and the other consisting of high school students living in North Philadelphia.
The overall goal of these trips is to expose students to the New Orleans crisis and to help out, as well as to gain a learning experience. Student organizations have also become involved with this operation, including the Honors Immersion Program, the Progressive NAACP, Students for Responsible Business, Temple VOICES and Temple Reel Society.
“Together, we could create a strong community led by the Coalition that will hopefully start to tackle a lot of these issues once these students return home,” Epstein said. “We have walked directly into the heart of a movement to combat racism, classism and all forms of injustice and oppression.”
Natsai Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.