The last two spring breaks I’ve experienced in college, I’ve gone home, hung out in my bedroom, watched some movies, talked with my parents, and that’s pretty much it. At the time, all of that seemed quite okay after the week of midterm exams and seemingly never-ending essays. This year, it was not like that at all.
Each year, SUNY Oswego offers “Alternative Spring Break” to its students. Instead of going home and doing the things I listed above, Alternative Spring Break gives students the opportunity to travel to various parts of the country to do a week’s worth of volunteer work for various volunteer organizations. My decision to go on this journey started in such a simple way…in a McDonald’s in Canajoharie, New York. That’s where my friend told me she was applying for it. I’m on a mission to see all 50 U.S. states in my life and some of the destinations offered; Alabama, Mississippi, and Iowa were all states that I’d never seen before. I also love helping people and I knew that some volunteer work would be good for me.
My friend and I both applied and both were selected to help in the construction of a house for Habitat For Humanity in Florence, Alabama. Us and 11 other SUNY Oswego students, two of them group leaders, gathered together and took a week trip down to the South. The total 22 hour car ride was a lot of fun in itself and when we finally did get down there, each one of us were extremely taken back by the amount of kindness and hospitality that the people there were providing us. Right away, our “guide” welcomed us into his home and told us his history and the town’s history and then the rest of our hosts provided a lovely Southern dinner for us. They wanted to know all about us: who we were, what we studied, why we were doing this. And that made each one of us want to talk to them and ask them about their lives and experiences.
The actual volunteer work was incredibly rewarding. Pounding hundreds of nails, climbing up and down ladders dozens of times, installing windows, wires, putting up siding on a house at the work site didn’t even feel like work. Better yet, it made you want to do more. You felt useless if you were just standing there and didn’t want to leave when work for the day was over. When there wasn’t much to do, you would stand and talk to the elderly men and women that were also working there, all in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, volunteering and climbing up and down ladders like children. They provided Krispy Kreme doughnuts every morning, lunch every afternoon, and took us out for dinner every night and ice cream two different days. They helped us whenever we needed help and guided us whenever we were lost. It was a lot of fun and seeing something go from messes of plywood to what the house was when we left was inspiring to each one of us.
That was the other part that was rewarding. The “us” part. Every one of the SUNY Oswego students that went on this trip had their own special qualities and brought something different to the table. There were the fun-loving ones, the enthusiastic ones, the hard-working ones, the ones who didn’t say too much and the ones who said a little too much. We weren’t perfect. Everyone got on everyone’s nerves several times, but that happens when you spend a week with the same 13 people constantly around you. But at the end of the day, we were all able to enjoy each other’s company and friendship. The last night we were there, we passed a volleyball around and everyone in the group would go around the circle and say something positive about the person who held the volleyball. This was estimated by our group leaders to take 15-20 minutes to do…it was so much fun and we all had so much to say about each other that it actually took us three hours..
And even after we got back to Oswego, I thought I’d probably never see most of that group again. On Monday morning, as I was walking to my first class, I stopped at the Information Desk in Campus Center to talk to my friend (the one who told me about the trip) and then suddenly two of our group members walk up and say hello. And they were actually there to meet another member of our group to give her her headphones that she had left in the car. I was five minutes back into the real world and already I had had a small reunion with these wonderful people. We agreed to meet up again when we can, the first time to make thank you notes to the people down in Alabama.
I can’t imagine sitting on a couch doing nothing over break anymore. Going to Alabama was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in college and I would recommend it to everyone and anyone. It was the best spring break I could ask for. I want to try to do the international trip next year.