Posted by Andrew Shi
Sunny, 70 degree weather, Florida, Vero Beach specifically; these sound like the components of the standard spring break. But factor in that the week was spent nailing on a roof and organizing a home-depot sized thrift store and the picture no longer includes a bucket of Coronas on white sandy beaches.
I, along with six other Skidmore students, spent spring break working with Habitat for Humanity, a charity organization that constructs houses and sells them at substandard mortgages to lower-income families. The house we worked on was going to a single woman with three children and two jobs.
Our workday started at 7:30, which meant we were up by 6:30. We worked until 3, lugging around planks of wood, organizing dusty shelves until they resembled some level of professionalism, and hammering in nail after nail until our wrists developed carpal tunnel. The work day ended early enough, but despite a day that saw sunlight past nine, most of us were sound asleep by 10 p.m. Sound fun yet?
Vero Beach, obviously, had a beach, several in fact, but it certainly wasn't Cancun. Yet, there's a reason why, if someone offered me a week partying in Cancun or constructing houses in Vero Beach, I'd still choose the latter.
The work is unbelievably gratifying. Arguably, we attend college to become highly contributive citizens that give back to our community. Why wait until then to give back? When there are 52 weeks in the year there is a redeeming effect of donating one of those weeks, especially during spring break. It's an opportunity to give back to the community, as we were all beneficiaries of the kindness of others at one point; it's an opportunity to pay it forward. It's an opportunity to forget the stress and pressure of school and toil away the anxiety. And it's an opportunity to discover lasting friends, and ones from other schools too (we worked with students from The University of Georgia and Saint Louis University).
An alternative spring break is hardly relaxing, but despite physical exhaustion it permits mental recuperation. It'll leave you ready to tackle the rest of the semester, but the purpose of an alternative spring break is to find a meaningful way to spend a week off from school. It's a choice between a week of catching up on sleep, a week of little sleep from partying or a week of little sleep from enabling a needy person to find comfort and a place to call home. But there is no need to justify an alternative spring break on moral grounds. I chose it because it was more exciting, more fun, and much more warmer than my home in dreary Boston. Still, I found working for Habitat for Humanity to be a rewarding experience, one I would encourage for all and for reasons beyond the weather. And it's not like an alternative spring break is all work and no play; it was, after all, a trip to the beaches of Florida.