Muddy shoes, snow days, 6am yoga sessions, Lay’s Dill Pickle chips, and long van rides could easily sum up my spring break in Pendleton County, West Virginia. As a part of the Prindle Alternative Spring Break last week, nine DePauw students and myself volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in the eastern Appalachian Mountains, where sheep and cows easily outnumber the human population. The experience exceeded my expectations in every way.
|The whole crew (from left to right): Julia Sobek, Kendyll Owens, |
myself, Anna Nakada, Linh Tran, Kevin Yean, Hoai Pham, Jazzkia Jones, Katelyn Utz, Cassidy Melendez
The work camp where we called home for the week reminded me of a mid-range hostel tailored for kids. T-shirts from past Habitat volunteer groups lined the walls and a basketball hoop served as the centerpiece of the communal dining/rec room. We shared the space with two other student groups, one from the University ofWisconsin-Parkside, and a larger group of high school girls from Sacred HeartCatholic School just outside of Philadelphia. Personalities and backgrounds varied so much within our own group and between our group and the others, but it was poetic how we all came together for service.
Our group consisted of freshman through juniors, international students, females and a male (thanks Kevin), majors of all kinds, and almost none of them knew each other before coming on the trip. Having a common interest like community service made it easy for all of us to get along and quickly become friends.
|The DePauw University group at our Habitat house |
repair near Cass, WV
We worked specifically at a residence about an hour away from the work camp tucked beneath Bald Knobnear Cass, WV. According to the current homeowner, the house was a rural schoolhouse through the 1930’s, and has been with the Seabolt family since the 1950’s. The home needed more love and sweat work than we could give it in a week, but our group managed to finish the plaster work on the bathroom walls, put in the tile floor and shower, start on the ceiling ventilation system (in the bathroom), and finish up roof work around the chimney. I was struck by something several of my students commented on at the end of the week: although we were not improving the structural integrity of the house, we were making small improvements that made one person very happy, and that happiness and gratitude made our work worth it.
Habitat’s mission and organization was impressive to be a part of. They manage to organize large groups of people and teach construction skills to “green” workers with only a few construction managers on all the sites for the week. Our site manager Dave taught me patience, humility and stillness. He was able to help all ten of us with our constant questions and never complained or seemed frazzled by all of the work and minimal resources set before us.
|Kendyll and Anna using a jigsaw to cut the |
I initially set up the trip with a curriculum in ethics and poverty, but it wasn’t necessary. Conversations on moral obligation and service, leadership, values, and the face of poverty came easily while working in an area where these topics easily presented themselves through dilapidated houses that dotted the surrounding hills and volunteers with an eager intent to make a difference.
Only a week later, service has a totally different connotation for me. It doesn’t have to be donating to a charity or volunteering long hours for an organization, it can be as simple as bringing a smile to one person’s face.
Habitat workers and volunteers whole-heartedly believe in the power of one person: one person doing the right thing, paying it forward, and affecting others in a way that creates a ripple effect and leads to large-scale, global change. I think I lost this faith for a long time to cynicism or pessimism: wrapped up in all the ways that I couldn’t make a substantial difference. I cannot thank my students and fellow volunteers enough for giving this positive conviction back to me. It was a spring break that I will never forget.