Though Tulane students have always sought to play an active role in the New Orleans community, large scale organized efforts did not begin until 1963. With the inception of Project Opportunity, Tulane and fifteen peer institutions of higher learning were given the chance to work closely with a junior high school in the community. Funded by the Ford and Danforth Foundations and sponsored by the Southern Association of Colleges and schools, the goal was to motivate potentially superior students from disadvantaged backgrounds to seek higher education.
During the first years of Project Opportunity, Tulane students received sparse administrative support. The Assistant Director of Admissions was put in charge of the coordination of the project, though he already had full-time responsibilities in the admissions office. It soon became apparent that the effectiveness of student participation could be increased if the students were given additional support. Therefore, in the fall of 1966, Mr. Donald Mintz (Law 68) was appointed as Assistant to the Director of Admissions for the purpose of coordinating Tulanes community service effort. Making service a priority within the administration drastically increased the effectiveness of the program. In the year before the appointment of Mintz, there had been 15-20 Tulane students in Project Opportunity; in the following year, more than sixty students participated.
Through the persistence of Mintz and several Tulane students, the administration agreed to support an official student community service organization. Modeled after Columbia University Citizens Council, the Community Action Council of Tulane University Students (CACTUS) was officially born in the Spring of 1968. At that time, it sponsored two programs: Project Opportunity and DARE. DARE, the Desire Area Recreational Experience, ran continuously up until 2005 when it ceased due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Though several projects were rendered inoperable by the hurricane, CACTUS was determined to play an active role in the rebuilding of New Orleans. To that end, CACTUS created a temporary division focused solely on rebuilding projects. Collaborating with groups such as the Mardi Gras Service Corps, the NOLA Hurricane Fund, and Tulane Alternative Breaks, CACTUS helped sponsor projects throughout the city by employing over three thousand volunteers from all around the country.
CACTUS has seen tremendous growth through the years, adding numerous projects and inspiring thousands of students to volunteer. Some projects that were originally part of Cactus branched off due to size, such as the Tulane Emergency Medical Service (TEMS) and the Green Club.
CACTUS is one of the oldest and largest continually running student-led volunteer organizations in the nation, and it has become a model for other universities around the world. As a volunteer, you are not only becoming a part of this history, you are creating the opportunity for an even stronger future!