Amanda is a 20-year-old sophomore from Derry, New Hampshire. She is a nutrition and dietetics major. When students started planning their spring break excursions, Amanda decided to do something a bit different. While other students relaxed on the beach in various warm locations, Amanda was in a small van for a 22-hour drive down to Albany, Georgia, to give back to those in need. Amanda gave me the scoop on her amazing experience with the Alternative Break Challenge, and what it was like building houses in the south, delicious southern BBQ, how it was to see where The Notebook was filmed!
Why did you choose to do an Alternative Spring Break?
I chose the Alternative Break Challenge because it has been something I have wanted to do since I first heard about it my freshman year. I love volunteering my time and I thought this was a great way to do community service while getting to experience a different part of the country and meet new people.
Have you done anything like this before?
I have done many community service activities in the past, but I have never had any experience with Habitat for Humanity. During the last week before classes start for the new school year, I am a staff for the Pre Orientation Volunteer Experience in Service (PrOVES) program. This is a program where incoming freshman take the week before classes start and volunteer their time at various locations around the seacoast. As a staff member as well as a participant last year, I spend the week volunteering my time to locations such as nursing homes and childcare centers as well as clearing up trails and playgrounds. This program is similar to the ABC, but it was also very different than Habitat for Humanity.
What was the experience like?
As cliché as it sounds, this trip was honestly one of the greatest experiences of my life. From the beginning when I found out I was going to Albany, Georgia I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to the south before so that was a whole new experience. The south was probably one of the nicest and most welcoming places I have ever been; everyone is so friendly and caring and I did not feel like I was hundreds of miles away from home.
The trip getting down there was another experience in itself. There were 9 of us total in the group, and we all squished ourselves as well as our bags for the week into a large van. Luckily, we took out 2 rows of seats to allow for more room, but by the time we loaded all of our belongings into the van, we barely had enough room to stretch out our legs. This is what made the van ride so memorable though. I got to know my group members so much better because we were all stuck in the same cramped van for 22 hours.
On the way down, we stopped in Washington, D.C, Myrtle Beach, and at a beach in St. Simons, Georgia. We also stopped in Charlestown, SC on the way back home and I have never seen a more beautiful place to be- maybe it was because we got to see the street and theatre that Noah and Ali lay down in in The Notebook, but... Really, though, the south was just such a pretty place to be in and I am definitely going to go back!
Anyways, once we got to Albany, we unloaded our things into Camp Kirksey- a ministry camp that is usually used for religious retreats, but it served our purpose just as good. Camp Kirksey reminded me a little of a summer camp- the main house was where we all stayed, girls in one large room containing bunk beds, and the boys in another room, and there was a separate building for the dining hall and additional showers, as well as large field and a basketball court.
What was a typical day on the trip like?
A typical in Albany, Georgia during spring break went something like this: We woke up at about 6:45 every morning to start the day. It was so easy to get up because the room we stayed in had about 50 girls in it, so you were bound to hear someone's alarm sooner or later. After we got ready (which didn't take long because no one worried about doing their make-up or hair) we met our group in the dining hall for breakfast. At around 7:25 we left for the site. At the site, we were welcomed by Jimmy, our wonderful, very southern, site coordinator who would tell us our tasks for the day. We worked on our projects until about 12:30 when the children from the local middle school came and brought us lunch. After about an hour break, we were back to work on the houses. The day ended around 4:00 after we had cleaned up all of the tools we were working with and the "stairway to heaven" (the main staircase that was used to get into the house) was removed from the house. Once our end-of-the-day meeting was over, we were free to go back to the camp to shower or do anything else we pleased. Two of the nights however, we were invited to have dinner at the locations for the American Legion and the Knights of Columbus. The dinner at the American Legion was like nothing I've ever had before. This dinner was what I thought of as a typical southern dinner- barbeque chicken that fell off the bone, green beans, cole slaw, spicy rice, warm rolls that tasted like heaven, a brownie that melted in your mouth, and of course sweet tea. Needless to say, I wasn't hungry for the rest of the night and couldn't get over how good the food was. After dinner, the groups did different things. My group did things such as explore the downtown area and went to 'Fun Place'. Exploring the downtown area was awesome, we saw a monument for Ray Charles that played music, played on a huge playground, saw little downtown shops, and learned how to dance from local kids on the street. At Fun Place, we played laser tag, mini golf, and raced on go-carts. Many groups did similar activities as well.
What was it like building houses? Did you have any prior experience?
Building the house was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip, actually. The first task I had to to was nail in 2x4 stud boards into the framing of the interior walls. I had no idea how to do this, and once I was taught, I still had no idea how to do it because it was kind of tricky. I actually ended up nailing in the boards completely wrong, but later some of the other workers fixed it. The second task I had to do was put up tongue-and-groove boards (I had no idea what these were either). This was a lot more difficult than it looked, but at the same time it was really fun. This took a lot of hammering though, and my wrist and forearm were so sore after the second day. One of my final tasks I had to do was put up siding on the exterior of the house. This was so scary because when I got to the task, the bottom siding had already been completed so I had to stand on scaffolding about 15 feet in the air, hold a heavy nail gun and siding board at the same time, and then nail the boards into place. The nail gun was really heavy and I thought I was going to fall off the scaffolding. I was a rookie with all of these things- the most work I've done on a house is vacuum it....but by the end of the day when I looked at the work I did, I felt so accomplished and proud of myself and the members of my group.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
My favorite part of the experience was definitely when we were all at the site. There were so many other kids that I had never met before and working on the same project with them brought us all together. Even though we were all from different areas, we got really close with each other and I made a lot of new friends. I met people from Scranton, PA, Harvard, Frances Marion in SC, and even other girls from UNH. When we were all working on the house, we were able to learn from each other and get to know each other by relating to the fact that some of us had no idea what we were doing, or by complaining about the heat, or by laughing at all of the jokes about construction that were made. It was so fun to be able to make a difference while meeting so many great people.
What was the most challenging aspect?
The most challenging part of this experience was probably eating healthy. I know that probably shouldn't be anything that should have been challenging, but as a nutrition major I'm really into eating healthy, fresh foods. At the site and throughout the week, there wasn't much of a selection of healthy foods to choose from which was a challenge for me. But I just had to take what I was given and be happy with it
What is your overall favorite memory?
There are ton of great memories and stories from the trip, but the funniest times came from the members of our group. There were a ton of different personalities in the group, and we all bounced off each other with funny jokes, little comments or just being crazy. Some of the things I'll never forget are the countless trips to Wal-Mart that we took, learning the Wobble from kids on the street, driving the huge vans and doing karaoke with the entire group.
Would you do an Alternative Spring Break Challenge again?
I would definitely do this trip again and I would encourage everyone to do this program! Actually, I am already planning on applying to be a trip leader for next year's trip. This was easily one of the highlights of my year and I am so excited to participate in it again
For more information on UNH Alternative Break Challenge, dates, trips, and applications, visit http://unhabc.webs.com/.