Tom Nailor, a New Canaan resident and senior at Providence College, just returned from his school's annual NOLA Immersion trip. He spent a week along with 13 other Providence College students on a service trip in response to the needs of a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

"The trip is a mainstay alternative break experience held for the past four years, which aids the local community while exposing students to the faith, food, and culture of the Gulf Coast," said Christine Centazzo, the public affairs and community relations Coordinator for Providence College.

Nailor and his peers worked with several service groups in New Orleans, including Green Light New Orleans, the Harry Tompson Center, Orleans Public Defenders and Beacon of Hope.

"The experience was both powerful and inspiring; New Orleans, though it has left many of our memories and has been soured by our own prejudices and the prejudices of others, is at heart a vibrant and compassionate city, one where pride and joy manifest in everything from the food and the fellowship to the music, the art, and, best of all, the hospitality and kindness of everyone who lives there," Nailor said

He said the community feel of New Orleans reminded him New Canaan in more ways than one.

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"To spend time in the city is to be reminded in many ways of things that so many of us love about New Canaan -- the joy with which people do their work, the strength of the community in places like the New Canaan YMCA or the New Canaan Library, and the passion with which people come to represent our town," Nailor said. "To see a community like that in another part of the country, and to speak about my own community, my family, my friends, and my coworkers, was something that provided an immediate point of connection with so many people in New Orleans, from all walks of life."

Besides that point of connection, Nailor cites New Canaan as one of the reasons for his desire to serve different communities in need.

"Growing up in New Canaan, a place where affluence is primarily the norm and is no longer surprising for many of us, left me considering community service as something vital for us each to engage in. Growing up in a family where giving, not only your money but also your time, is always important, regardless of personal difference or belief, inspired me to consider service as something I always needed to explore," Nailor said. "The NOLA Immersion trip offered me that chance, and in interacting with much of the marginalized communities in New Orleans, such as the homeless through the Harry Thompson Center (a homeless day shelter), or around people accused of crimes with the New Orleans Public Defenders, I was forced to face, not for the first time, the fact that not everyone has been as fortunate or as blessed as I have."

In addition to the community work, Nailor said his most memorable experience from New Orleans was the food. He said most of it was so good that it was indescribable, especially the new things he tasted like crawfish and alligator.

"No one leaves a table or a home hungry in New Orleans, and whether it is the staples of red beans and rice, or gumbo or the simple joy of a delicious crab cake po-boy, it's a place where people love their food, take pride in their cooking, and take such joy from sharing a meal with others," he said.

Nailor said it was the people of New Orleans who had and continue to have hope in the face of troubling situations who inspire him. It's something he said he will never forget for the rest of his life.

"New Orleans is a perfect example of a place where the actions and inactions of the few and the many have had far reaching, and in many cases, disastrous consequences," Nailor said. "But it is also a place that continues to inspire, and to remind us that there is hope and joy to be found even in the darkest of times, especially when we move out of our own comfort zone towards solidarity with our fellow man, and in working together toward a common goal of justice for all in our country and our world."