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Tennessee Wesleyan students give back and learn through alternative spring break trips

While many college students look forward to spring break for a trip to the beach or some time at home, several Tennessee Wesleyan students spent their week away from school giving back through alternative spring break trips to Florida and the Bahamas. Alternative spring break trips allow students to spend their break from school providing meaningful service to others in the community.

“Alternative spring breaks are important and beneficial because it gives people the opportunity to focus on other people instead of themselves,” freshman Nicole Simon said. “I think that people should take every opportunity to help others as much as they can because it can change people’s lives, and you never know if you might one day be a person in need of help, hoping that someone comes along and helps you.”

Over spring break 2016, eight Tennessee Wesleyan students traveled to Walton County, Florida to participate in Habitat for Humanity’s annual Collegiate Challenge week. Working with students from two other universities, participants worked at four sites, installing drywall, siding and sod; clearing and shaping a home lot; and cleaning the ReStore after mold impacted the warehouse.

From the time she arrived in Florida, Simon knew her time working with Habitat for Humanity on an alternative spring break trip would leave a lasting impression.

“The most memorable experience of this trip was on the very first day that we began working on the house,” Simon said. “The leaders were giving us a safety lesson before we started, and then they introduced the woman who we were helping build the house for.  When she started talking to us, she started to cry because she was so happy and grateful that we had all taken the time to help build a home for her and her family.  It was just a really touching experience, and it made me realize how important what we were doing actually was.  It’s definitely a moment that I will never forget.”

As participants hung sheet rock and worked on the landscapes, they learned new skills while also building and strengthening relationships with each other, other students and the families. While the experience took many students out of their comfort zone, junior Emily Green calls that her favorite part of the experience.

“My favorite part of this trip was being given a task that I had never done before and being scared to do it,” Green said. “That may sound a little strange, but through that experience I was able to gain confidence in myself. All of the other volunteers encouraged me and taught me exactly what to do. So being able to step out of my comfort zone and try new things and successfully complete tasks that I never would have imagined I would be able to do was my favorite part.”

Providing service to others as well as having the opportunity to learn and grow with other volunteers ensured participants had a memorable time in Florida. Sophomore Tiesha Bradley says the reactions of the homeowners stand out as memorable moments but says she will remember the whole trip as an enjoyable time.

“One woman cried. The other woman looked so happy. It’s always a wonderful feeling when you help others,” Bradley said. “There are so many different things that I will never forget. I can’t say one thing was my favorite. The laughs, the food, the beach, helping others, even the road trip to and back from Florida was memorable.”

One of the tenets of Habitat for Humanity’s home-building program is that the families who will live in the houses help with the construction. Student volunteers were able to meet and interact with the families, growing relationships and seeing the impact these homes would have on their lives.

“[The homeowner and I] carried on a long conversation while working on her new bathroom. During our conversation, I learned a little bit about her family and how excited they were for a new place to live,” Green said. “The part of the conversation that I will never forget is her explaining to me that the bedroom I had been hanging sheet rock in would belong to her sixteen-year-old daughter and how excited she would be to know that a group of beautiful young ladies helped build her room.”

During the building process, the volunteers worked to ensure they were building a strong and sturdy house for the homeowners. While they worked hard on the construction, students also provided messages of hope and encouragement to the homeowners, asking for the home to be blessed and writing messages of love on the framework.

“A portion of the volunteers went around the room and wrote notes and Bible verses on the wooden frames,” Green said. “Some of the things written include: ‘Bless this House’ and ‘you are so, so loved’ And while these messages are now covered in a layer of sheet rock, I believe they are still important. We left a bit of our heart and soul (and not just our sweat and hard work) in that house.”

DSC06918In addition to the students who participated in the Habitat for Humanity trip, five other Tennessee Wesleyan students used their spring break to participate in a trip to Freeport, Bahamas, to work with Karazim Ministries. On this trip, the participants helped clean and reorganize a trailer of donated items, built a concrete patio area, and worked with children at a local daycare.

“I loved working with Karazim Ministries,” Tennessee Wesleyan senior Alyssa Blackwood said. “The people really have a heart for what they do, and their passion made me more passionate about what we were doing. They were so loving and generous to our group, we felt like family.”

Though trip participants did get to spend a day exploring the Bahamian culture and area, much of their time was spent away from the tourist attractions, learning about the daily life outside of the tourist areas.

“I think this trip gave me and the students the opportunity to see the ‘real’ Bahamas,” Vice President for Student Life and trip chaperone Scott Mashburn said. “We got to see the people and the island away from the tourist hot spots.  As a result, we were able to learn about the daily struggles and the poverty that are not highlighted in travel brochures.”

Through working with Karazim Ministries and helping at the daycare with the children, students were able not only to give back of their time and efforts, but also to grow and change as people.

“I have been on previous ASB trips and they always help me grow in my faith, while also doing great work in the lives of others,” Blackwood said. “The Bahamas was a great opportunity to travel, and also see how the Lord could work through our group.”

While students did get to explore the island and do recreational activities including snorkeling and kayaking, several of the participants call working with the children at the daycare their most memorable part of the experience.

“There were sixty-three kids in this small house, but they were all so happy,” sophomore Carlie Smallwood said. “They attacked you as soon as you walked in the door, and for me that was the greatest feeling ever. I love kids and believe that they should all be treated with special care, so this trip was perfect for me. I loved interacting with the kids and seeing their smiling faces every day, and I think about them and miss them every day. The most memorable part was also the most heartbreaking. When we had to leave the school on the last day, several of the kids asked us ‘can you stay forever?’ and even cried. I will never forget that moment.”