An ABsolutely Great Experience

Wow, do I love the Alternative Breaks program.

For those who may not know, the Alternative Breaks program is run through the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center on CMU’s campus. The program strives to lead students to becoming active citizens in their community, around the country, and around the world. There are weekend breaks, weeklong breaks (during the winter, spring, and summer breaks), and an international break. I have been on three (soon to be four) weeklong breaks and each has been live changing in vastly different ways. Here is the story of my latest break, titled Affoardable Housing.

This was not the first break that I wanted to sign up for. I had origionally wanted to sign up for a different break (I don’t even remember what it was) but that filled up within 10 seconds of the breaks opening up – and that’s no exaggeration. Signups began at 7:30am, and the break I wanted was full by 7:30 and 10 seconds. Affordable Housing was my second option, and one of my roommates was already going on the break. I like to meet new people when I go on breaks, so I was initially a little nervous going on a break with one of my best friends.

Leading up to the breaks, all the students who are going (12 in total) have eight weekly meetings together to learn about the community they will be working in, about the community partner we will work with, about the issue itself, and about the different logistics surrounding the break. Upon even the first meeting with the group, I knew that it was going to be a great time. We all clicked very well from the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to go on the break.

Our break took place in Gulfport, Mississippi the first week of winter break. We worked with the Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and what wonderful people they were. Our site supervisor, Mark, reminded me of a mix between my dad and my Uncle Frank. A man who could fix everything, but also carried this Southern ease about him. Not super worried about much, loved to talk, and was passionate about the work that he was doing. We got to hear all about his story, as well as the stories of the other workers and AmeriCorps workers.

Our week was spent putting the finishing touches on a house – fun fact, this very house had been started by another Alternative Break from CMU that had been there a couple months prior. It was really cool to see everything come full circle, as well as hear about how Habitat houses were sold, and why they were in such demand. The effects of Hurricane Katrina were still being felt in the region, and these houses helped so many. They were a hand up, and not a hand out as Habitat for Humanity likes to put it, and I feel that that’s very fitting. The houses aren’t just given away – those who want to buy the house still have to pay, but the houses are built in a way that they are not extremely expensive.

The Alternative Breaks program has been an ABsolutley great experience over these last two years. I have loved everything about them, and they even inspired me to run for a spot on the Alternative Break Advisory Board. Next year I will be the Multi-Season Sight, Service, and Development chair. I am very excited for this experience and to see where AB takes me in the future!

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