Luling music therapist hopes to make a difference in Jamaica

Luling native Mary Van outside of Loyola University in New Orleans.

The third time was the charm for Mary Van of Luling.

Van, a senior at Loyola University-New Orleans, had twice before applied to be part of the school’s Ignacio Volunteers group, through which Loyola recruits students to travel to other places and work with those there who are in need.

But in her final year with the school, Van was among the special few who were selected to join the team this year, one of 11 chosen to travel to Jamaica this winter and  make a difference.

“We call it immersion, rather than a mission. We’re not going to talk about our faith, it’s centered around immersing ourselves in their culture, understanding them better and ultimately doing service for them,” said Van, a 2015 graduate of Hahnville High School.

Among their volunteer efforts, Van said, will be visits to various sites to distribute food to the hungry. The Loyola group will also be assisting with clean up efforts, working with women and children and visiting nursing homes. Van has been raising money through sponsorships to cover the costs of going.

“Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been really driven to go do something to help other people,” Van said. “This is something that gives me an outlet to do that, while also exposing me to a new environment and another culture.”

Van was chosen after an interview process, and she noted each Ignatio Volunteer team is selected based in part around how well the individuals chosen are perceived to fit together as a working unit.

The 11 have been meeting regularly to talk about Jamaican culture, social justice issues and the country’s environment, among many topics.

“We want to discuss every aspect we possibly can, so when we go on a trip, we have an understanding of what to expect,” Van said. “You won’t completely know until you get there, but you want to have an awareness of what to do and say.”

The program is named for St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the religious order called the Society of Jesus, which ultimately became Jesuits.

The trip represents an expanding of Van’s already existing efforts to help others. She’s studying to become a music therapist, which she says combines her passion for music with helping others. Music therapy utilizes music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals. For an elderly person, for example, music can help bring memories to the surface.

“Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been really driven to go do something to help other people.” – Mary Van

Van, a vocalist, uses song for her treatments.

“I’ve been in choir since I could read,” Van said. “My mom told me she’d take me to church when I was little and I’d point right at the choir and say ‘I want to do that.’”

She diverted herself from performance as well as teaching music because she felt compelled to do something in service of others.

“I also considered being a music teacher, but (through music therapy) I just love the aspect where I can help so many people, even if they’re not a musician themselves. It’s something inclusive of everyone,” Van said. “I love how music therapy allows me to work one-on-one or in small groups, and create interpersonal relationships with those people.”

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