Two things happened in New Iberia’s favor when Tripp Wright graduated from Wingate University in Monroe, North Carolina last year. When life shifted a year-long mission stay in Thailand to the sidelines, Wright returned to the banks of the Bayou Teche where he’d visited his grandparents every summer and holiday and where his parents had moved two years prior. Once there, he took his father’s advice: “Do in New Iberia what you enjoyed doing in North Carolina.”
His father was referring to Wright’s four-year involvement in an up-and-coming volunteer organization called Heart for Monroe that changed his perception of helping others.
“I went through life thinking that I was doing enough until I worked with that organization,” Wright says “and I wanted to make a similar impact elsewhere.”
So, this March, Wright began Heart for Iberia, a nonprofit organization that unites volunteers with churches and community organizations to address issues like hunger, homelessness and education in the community.
The program’s success is centered, in large part, on two important questions: Have your volunteer efforts been a one-time event? And, do you know the names of the people you have helped? “It’s a matter of spending more time with them, being intentional and getting to know their names,” Wright says.
Heart for Iberia volunteers are trained to be present in the moment and listen to those they are helping. Actions speak louder than words, as Wright experienced firsthand on one of his repeat visits to the New Iberia Boys and Girls Club when a young boy came up to him, smiling in disbelief and saying, “You came back!” “Consistency in being there is what these kids need the most,” Wright adds.
Micah Nicholas, Director of Boys and Girls Club’s Iberia Unit welcomes the help of this new program in their efforts to “mold great futures for their kids.” “Heart for Iberia has shown our kids at Boys and Girls Club that someone outside of their family, and the mentors at the Club, cares for them,” he says.
Through its adopted Model City Mission, Heart for Iberia recruits student groups for service opportunities in New Iberia, like the one from Oklahoma that came in March and helped clean New Iberia’s community garden and a warehouse that will become a facility to grow mushrooms.
Elsewhere in the area, volunteers of varying ages have helped on projects like caulking and painting a Habitat for Humanity home in Loreauville and serving food and painting the parking lot at St. Francis Diner.
Wright hopes that in the near future Heart for Iberia can work with the nationwide organization Communities in Schools helping at-risk students become good achievers in life as well as school.
And, this summer three additional student groups, this time from Texas, are expected to volunteer in New Iberia.
“We have all these young people who aren’t aware of their hidden talents because they haven’t been told,” Wright says. “If they can feel validated by volunteering, society gets better.”
Anna Johnson, an Oregon college student who gave up her spring break to volunteer with Heart for Iberia put things in perspective. “My experience showed me that society prioritizes the wrong things. By giving of ourselves to others, we create a stronger, better world for everyone.”
While word of Heart for Iberia is spreading, Wright still sees a disconnect between volunteers and opportunities. Many still aren’t aware of the opportunities to help. Others don’t think they’d be good at it. Oftentimes, people think it requires a specific talent or other resources. When all it really takes is time – even one hour a day. “People start seeing that they can help others and it creates a domino effect, not only in the community, but at home. Helping a neighbor can be just as meaningful as coordinating a huge event,” Wright says.
He hopes to offer workshops, making Heart for Iberia a training ground for volunteer groups elsewhere. His vision is a place where people can discover their talents and passions and use them to help others at work, home and in the community.
A Texas native, Wright was destined to be a humanitarian. His grandfather was a pastor and his father, Kenny Wright, a pastor of 20 years, ministers at New Iberia Church of Christ. Accompanying his dad on mission trips was a more meaningful way for the family to spend time bonding with one another. His three siblings have all done mission work in and out of the country. “We were taught to think bigger than ourselves and to live a life of service, finding worth in everyone around us,” Wright says. In the course of growing up, he saw some 15 people - all nonrelatives - come to live with them. “Some would stay a few weeks; one stayed a couple years,” he says.
If ever there was evidence of the joy in volunteering, it is written on the face of this tall, All-American-looking, collegiate swimmer who radiates happiness. Make no mistake when you see some of the quirky expressions on his Facebook pictures with children whom he mentors, this barely-24-year-old is self-motivated and driven to not only helping others, but breaking the barriers of volunteerism and changing a mindset about kindness.
With the support of four board members, Wright is still trying to earn trust from the organizations needing help, still amazed to see the “lightbulb go” on when they realize he and his volunteers can help at no charge.”
“There are amazing hearts in New Iberia and we’re finding them,” says Wright, who concentrates on finding sponsors and building a larger resource of volunteers - without compensation for the time being - while he also pursues a Master of Global Services degree online. With graduation not until the spring of 2021, the ever-optimist sees this as a time of “building a foundation for his life” and a worthwhile investment in a community he has come to be fond of.
Looking for an opportunity to volunteer in New Iberia? Contact Tripp Wright at Tripp@HeartforIberia.org