Allyson Bradley ’23
For those of you who don’t know, which is probably most of you, I was asked to give a reflection today because I helped organize a service day with 17 motivated Dominican students and a non-profit organization. I’m very fond of SOUL, which stands for Sustaining Our Urban Landscape. It is an organization based in New Orleans and its goal is to reforest the city. Every Saturday from October to March, their volunteers plant trees around New Orleans, targeted in underserved and often neglected communities. About three months ago, I met SOUL’s founder, Susannah Bridges Burley. I learned from her that we lost more than a hundred thousand trees due to Hurricane Katrina. Can you believe that? A hundred thousand trees!
She told me about the incredible service they were doing and how they had schools like Jesuit and Cabrini involved and I knew Dominican had to get in on this. After all, when I think of service, I think of Dominican. A couple of days after meeting Susannah, I brought the idea of getting Dominican involved with SOUL to Ms. Wallace, who loved the idea and encouraged me to move forward with it. But before we could make official plans, I knew I first needed to plant trees myself before roping in my peers. For that reason, I spent my Martin Luther King Jr. Day planting trees in the Lower Ninth Ward. I was with girls I’d just met around my age from Cabrini, and they told me about their experience as fourth-time SOUL volunteer planters. The four of us planted three trees in three hours, one that, to my surprise, was named after me. By the end of the day, we had really bonded.
When I got back to school that Tuesday, I reached out to Mrs. Haydel, the Ecology and Stewardship club moderator who reached out to the volunteer coordinator at SOUL. Thank you for that Mrs. Haydel! Naturally, feeling very eager and excited, I began running around asking teachers and friends to come volunteer with us. On March 19th, Ms. Wallace, Mrs. Haydel, Mr. Gonnella, Ms. Gallagher, members of Ecology and Stewardship Club, Campus Ministry, and my close friends joined me – to plant trees on South Claiborne, not far from our school. Someone recently asked me, “What is planting trees really going to do? How will that help our city?” And I would be naive to say that planting trees will immediately cure climate change or help end the environmental injustices we see every day, such as heat islands where underserved communities have fewer trees and nothing but concrete…again, we see it every day when we’re driving to school on Burdette and Pine. Now, let’s compare that to St. Charles Avenue, a street lined with beautiful, oversized trees, a tree canopy. Did you know that trees reduce the urban heat island effect by providing shade and reducing the amount of sunlight entering people’s homes? They also improve air quality by filtering harmful dust and pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, from the air we breathe. In fact, trees provide the oxygen we need to survive. And most importantly, in a city like New Orleans, where flooding can occur on any given day, they reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, minimizing the effects of flooding. Trees also provide food, protection, and homes for birds and mammals. I read something that I wrote down and would like to share with you, “Pat yourself on the back for creating an opportunity.” Actively participating in the change we want to see in our community is how we make things happen and is one of the many reasons I volunteer. Volunteering makes me happy and makes me a better, kinder, and more compassionate person. I thank my Dominican community for allowing and supporting me in doing just that with our SOUL service day. The trees, underserved communities in New Orleans, and I are very grateful. Thank you.