Hometown: Toledo, Ohio
Education: DePaul University (BS), Tulane University (MPH)
Working: Clinton Health Access Initiative
In the spring of 2007, I made my first trip to the city of New Orleans to set things up for RLT’s Gulf Coast program. I was not sure what to expect. It had been a year and a half since Katrina had changed the landscape of the city. Katrina’s impact on the city was still very much felt, but what was also evident was that the spirit of the area was stronger than ever! I fell in love with the culture, architecture, quirks, and resiliency of New Orleans.
I went on to lead a number of RLT’s Gulf Coast programs, and even though the work was challenging, the groups of participants were amazing. Trips all began the same - participants didn’t know New Orleans other than images of crowds on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. But over the course of two weeks, their eyes were opened to a very unique culture - all within the confines of the U.S.A. Jazz performances at the quaint Preservation Hall to beignets and café au lait at Café Du Monde were always high points, but the moments that truly stuck were conversations with homeowners struggling to rebuild and discussions about why rebuilding the city of New Orleans is important. RLT was able to provide the platform for these honest discussions to take place that furthered the development of each and every participant.
I was fortunate to lead a few other programs for RLT - as well as work full time in the office for over five years - and these experiences had the same impact on me as they did on the participants. Disconnecting from technology, living simply, learning about relationships - with yourself, with others, and with the world in general - really helps to put life in perspective. For me, that meant being of service to those that do not traditionally have a voice and working to provide basic rights for vulnerable groups.
In order to achieve this work, I moved down to New Orleans to get a master of public health degree from Tulane University where I focused on global health and food security. Since graduating, I have been working with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in nutrition and agricultural development, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa. My experiences out in the field with RLT are undoubtedly what drove me to this field. New Orleans, in particular, has a very special place in my heart. I miss those experiences connecting with staff and participants, but am thankful to have had that time to learn about my place in the world.