STEPHENVILLE (March 18, 2015) — For a group of two-dozen Tarleton State University students, it wasn’t spring break, but “Service Break.”
Framing windows, painting walls and installing siding might not be the typical college spring break—unless you were a member of Tarleton Serves who donated time to renovating and rebuilding homes last week with Flint River Habitat for Humanity in Albany, Ga. It was all part of their weeklong mission, dubbed “Alternative Spring Break.”
Now in its third year, the university’s Alternative Spring Break trip took undergraduates and two staff advisers to the southeastern United States, where the student-led Tarleton Serves organization found a meaningful volunteer experience, March 8-14. Sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement, alternative spring break previously made service trips to Biloxi, Miss. and Greeley, Colo., where students assisted with recovery efforts after a Gulf Coast hurricane and devastating floods in the Rockies.
Prior to leaving Stephenville, Tarleton Serves volunteered at Fosters Home for Children to kick off their week of service. Students assisted the non-profit organization with its annual auction, helping serve the noon meal, facilitating the silent auction and loading vehicles at auction end.
Early Sunday, March 8, students boarded a charter bus for the 900-mile trip to Albany. They were greeted by representatives of the Flint River Habitat for Humanity, which participates in the year-round Habitat-sponsored Collegiate Challenge, a national effort to facilitate alternative break service programs.
Tarleton students teamed with 14 peers from Penn State University who were assigned to work in Albany’s Woodland Oaks subdivision, a neighborhood of 64 Habitat for Humanity homes.
“Alternative Spring Break is a way for students to bond, because we do community service locally, but when we travel, it’s a way for us to bond through those efforts instead of at the beach,” said Tarleton junior education major Halie Hall, site coordinator for Tarleton Serves.
“Trained volunteers helped us with the equipment we were using,” Hall said, “and on the first day they all commented on how we treated them like family. For them to notice that about Tarleton students made us feel at home and it made a big impact on me.”
The Tarleton students completed all assigned tasks, said David Wilson, Flint River Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer coordinator and family service manager. “What the Tarleton students brought with them was phenomenal! Their enthusiasm and work ethic exceeded our expectations from the time I met them, to the time they left us. From the very beginning, it was like these students were coming back to see me, not merely getting to know me.”
The students’ project involved rehabilitating a Habitat home, painting four others, and working in the organization’s ReStore, an outlet that recycles overstocked, new and used building materials, furniture and household items donated to the non-profit organization, which are then sold to the public or used in Habitat construction.
At ReStore, Tarleton’s spring breakers sorted and packed three large shipping containers with donated school supplies, books, desks and classroom furniture, which were bound for Africa to aid schoolchildren and teachers in an international Habitat-sponsored effort.
“The Tarleton students took much initiative and they were a fantastic bunch to work with,” said Wilson. “They’ve been one of the top two groups we’ve had in our Collegiate Challenge in my eight years working with Habitat for Humanity. On average, we host 10 to 12 schools per year and I’ve seen close to 70 universities, and Tarleton is the one that comes to mind that has worked throughout their project with the proper attitude, flexibility and initiative. In terms of what they brought to this affiliate, we are honored to have had them volunteer with us.
“Collegiate Challenge provides great exposure for the Habitat affiliates and a great connection for the homeowners in terms of how far people actually travel to serve this community,” added Wilson. “That is the greatest fulfillment I get that we have students coming from as far away as Texas for a week. It brings exposure to what we do in terms of our capacity and touching the hearts of students. To me, they’re a phenomenal addition to our family that we now have in Texas who put a mark on our community.”
In addition to their volunteer efforts, the Tarleton students took time from their work schedules to enjoy some sightseeing, said Taylor Watson, Tarleton’s staff adviser and assistant director for fraternity and sorority life. “We did enjoy some time off during the week and took the students to visit the Albany Civil Rights Institute and a church where Dr. Martin Luther King gave speeches during the civil rights movement. It was very interesting to see and learn more about MLK and how his efforts impacted that community.”
At the end of their visit to Georgia, the students traveled to Orlando, Fla. and enjoyed a day trip to Universal Studios before returning to Texas.
“Alternative Spring Break was an amazing experience. This year, I was touched by the love that David Wilson, the Habitat site coordinator, had for his community and how he strived to make a difference,” said Watson. “We got to help finish a house for a woman who is raising her two grandchildren and has taken in two foster children. She, along with the Care-a-van volunteers, were astonished with the progress that these students made on the house. The growth of the students during the week was incredible. Students who did not know each other well before the trip came together to make something big happen for the city of Albany and the city of Albany, in return, affected them. The group plans to return to the same site next year to continue the work!”