By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

There is “much to love” about Baton Rouge, including the LSU Tigers and Southern Jaguars, weekend festivals and galas filled with fun activities, entertainment and food (including the official state crustacean, crawish), the State Capitol, a thriving arts community and the Mississippi River.

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From left, St. Aloyisus students Katherine Winchester, Isabelle Gruner and Jensen Holliday work on their projects as part of the “Baton Rouge HOPE” GIS project. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator


Students in the Geographic Information System (GIS) Club at St. Aloysius School in Baton Rouge love their community so much that they formed a technological think tank to help the city rise above its problems, including the devastation of homes and lives by the flood of 2016, high poverty and crime rates, which hit home with the students with the recent killing of McKinley High School football player Bryant Lee.

The GIS system is a computer system for capturing, storing, checking and displaying data related to positions on the earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map. This enables people to more easily see, analyze and understand patterns and relationships.

The GIS Club was formed on Jan. 26. Patience Moreno, computer and robotics teacher and student newspaper advisor at St. Aloysius, said after she learned more about the GIS system through demonstrations for teachers at LSU, she believe it was something that the St. Aloysius students could connect with. Soon the students themselves were trained on it.

“Step by step things fell into place,” said Moreno.

She asked the club members what they wanted to do with it, and it didn’t take long for them to come up with an answer. Seeing that the community was suffering from its problems, one student said, “Let’s do something to help Baton Rouge.”

“Healthy Opportunities for People and Environments – Baton Rouge HOPE,” is the name of the GIS Club’s project. It targets zip codes 70802 and 70805, which are in the biggest need of help. The club members brainstormed together and each student worked on a different phase of how to tackle some of the issues of those communities.

Three of the students, Katherine Winchester, Isabelle Gruner and Jensen Holliday took the initiative in their projects, giving their free time to work on their projects, said Moreno.

Club members entered the ArcGIS online U.S. School Competition, and on May 30 Winchester and Gruner received awards and Winchester’s project went on to compete at the national level.

“I love our city and entire state more than I can say,” said Winchester. “Louisiana is rich in history and celebration and it is impossible to be bored here because there is so much to do and see. I find myself extremely lucky to live here, but our city has a problem. Segregation is still a massive issue here. Homelessness and poverty are widespread. But crime rates have taken the character and charm of a portion of our city, and the goal of this project is to restore it.”

Her project focused on healthcare facilities, parks, churches, schools, community service facilities and other safe places for people to go to receive help. Among the facilities are St. Paul the Apostle Church (which has an adult learning center), and St. Gerard Majella and St. Anthony of Padua and Le Van Phung churches, St. Joseph’s Academy and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Gruner’s project looked at how the safe places in and around the 70805 and 70802 zip codes could form partnerships to help the people of their communities.

“What if we could partner these safe places to make them stronger to teach classes together like sewing, cooking or baking,” said Gruner. “This would make a better community of areas that different people of all races can go to learn and better themselves.”

She gave as an example that Sacred Heart of Jesus Church and School, in the 70802 zip code, could partner with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, also in that zip code. She also pointed out how the urgent care centers in the 70802 zip codes can provide supplies for shelters, such as the Bishop Ott Shelter, in that area. St. Joseph’s Academy, which is in the 70808 zip code, could team up with other schools and learning centers around the area to provide classes for the less fortunate. St. Aloysius School and Church, also in the 70808 zip code, could also be a resource center for the less fortunate, according to Gruner.

Holliday, who is continuing to develop his project, said it takes an in-depth look at crime rates in the city.

“If we think about the crime rates then we will want to look at ways to do something about it,” said Holliday, who is still developing his project.

He, Winchester and Gruner said their projects don’t just point out problems, but bring attention on how people can help.

Moreno said the most important aspect of the projects is that they promote communication, critical thinking and references and the building up of community.

“The subject matter of these two story maps created by Katherine and Izzy could be very important for Baton Rouge,” said Moreno. “If nothing else it could be a conversation starter for ideas to help our city.”

Moreno said she would like to share the two projects with non-profit organizations.

“With Katherine’s and Izzy’s initial steps of planting the seeds, maybe, with more ideas from wiser volunteer adults, this project could go further,” Moreno said. 

Winchester’s project can be viewed at and Gruner’s project can be seen at