Ten Montgomery College students became friends in six days. They came together to participate in MC’s Alternative Spring Break program in March this year and spent most of their time in Hattiesburg, MS, deconstructing a house infested with termites, as well as working with a local Habitat for Humanity chapter to reconstruct parts of the structure. They also built a community: They are still in touch and planned to gather for a southern meal a few days after they spoke with @MC.
Service was not new for Matthew Hand, but this trip was special. His father and other family members had volunteered in the area after Hurricane Katrina hit almost 13 years ago. “My dad always talks about the experience being powerful for him. It changed his perspective,” Hand said. “The trip was great. I met people from different cultures. We came together as a team and learned a lot about each other. We thought we would be building a new house but had to renovate a termite-infested house.”
Hand and Linda Gueyong, both students at the Germantown Campus, participated in the Alternative Spring Break for the first time this year.
“I was fascinated and drawn to it, especially to the community service aspect of it,” Gueyong said. She admits it was scary not knowing anyone and she was unsure about her construction skills. “The team members were helpful; we made new friends on site. It was as if we had had these friends for years,” she said.
They both said what enhanced the experience was the help from the Habitat for Humanity leaders in Hattiesburg and MC staff members Joan Lefever and Maria Clark. “Joan and Maria went out of their way to make it a cultural experience for us. They made sure we had what we needed,” Hand said.
I met people from different cultures. We came together as a team and learned a lot about each other.
By the time they left, they had gotten rid of the damaged wood, replaced some support beams, and put in a door and five windows.
Lefever, who coordinated the trip, said the students’ confidence improved dramatically as the days went by. “At first they were a bit more insecure. By the end they were going at it full force. They tried and learned to do things they never thought they could do,” she said.
Teamwork continued after they put away their tools for the day. Sharing cooking and cleaning responsibilities in the house where they stayed also provided bonding opportunities.
“No one knew each other, and now they have been doing things together. Friendships came out of this,” Lefever said.
The Alternative Summer Break program this year is “We’re Not Done Here: Hurricane Sandy, Five Years Later.” In 2013, MC Alternative Break students responded to Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in New Jersey communities by helping families clear debris and begin rebuilding. MC is now going back to help thousands of families still displaced or living in their storm-damaged homes due to inadequate insurance payouts and contractor frauds.
The group might change but one common goal for participants is clear, in the words of Lefever: “They all want to serve. That’s important to them.”