One of my first memories of Plaquemine, Louisiana, was the day after I arrived. My community and I decided to go to Mass at the local church, and I remember a feeling of discomfort coming over me as we walked in. Here we were, strangers in an already tight-knit community, and the stares of the parishioners reminded me of that fact. When Mass ended, a middle-aged couple in front of us turned around and asked, “Are y’all the new ACE teachers?” Our cover was blown! In a town where everyone knew everyone, I suppose it was an easy assumption, but what followed felt like the love of Christ shining through this special place.
After several minutes of conversation, they introduced themselves as the Coopers, a couple who lived near us and had some connections to the school where I would work. They invited us to lunch at The Island Country Club, the nicest restaurant in Plaquemine, and treated us to brunch. They even ordered a few boxes of beignets for us to take home and invited us to their house to swim. While not extraordinary or life-changing, this small piece of kindness from the Coopers still sits with me. The fact that our first experience as ACE teachers and strangers in Plaquemine was an act of pure generosity set the tone for our two years to come, and it felt like we were officially welcomed here. You could call it luck or random chance that put us behind the Coopers in Mass, but I honestly believe that we could have sat anywhere in that church and we would have gotten the same welcome.
When we first arrive at Notre Dame for ACE summer, we stress that the idea of community extends far beyond the four or five teachers in your house. Community also means the ACE community as a whole, your school community, and local community. Living in Plaquemine–a semi-rural town with fewer than 7,000 people–has offered a unique taste of what it really means to be in ACE teacher in a community.
You learn a couple of rules pretty quickly living in Plaquemine. Number one: don’t go shopping the day after you enter grades, unless you are comfortable with an impromptu parent-teacher conferences in the aisles of Wal-Mart. Number two: if you want to go out on the weekends, be prepared to make the drive to New Orleans. We have many of these small rules that highlight some of the quirks of living in such a small town, but the one rule we always try to keep: whenever anyone from school or the community invites you to something or offers something, say yes! The true beauty of living in a small community does not lie in the annual Acadian Festival, passing alligators on the road, or sitting down for a Po-Boy at Fat Daddy’s. Plaquemine is made special by the generosity and giving nature of everyone within it.
The ACE team often says, “Thank you for saying yes.” When you accept your ACE placement, you say more than “yes” to ACE, you say yes to your housemates, yes to your school, yes to your students, and yes to your local community. I feel blessed to have been placed somewhere that has wholeheartedly said yes to me, and truly lucky to say yes back.
Patrick Scheuring serves as an AmeriCorps member at St. John High School in Plaquemine, Louisiana.
Thinking about saying "yes" to ACE? Visit ace.nd.edu/apply and start your application!