The House That Built Me: A Spring Break with Habitat for Humanity

Over Spring Break, I went on Rowan’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Greensboro, North Carolina along with 7 other Rowan students and the best advisor to ever exist. We went there to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, but learned so much more from the experience than I ever thought imaginable.

Day 1: Sunday March 11, 2018 3:30 pm

The van left Rowan’s student center at 8:30 am and made two rest stops and a Panera stop. At Panera, we got to know each other in better detail. I really like all the girls and Sonnie, and I am eager for what this trip will bring. Even though it is raining right now, it’s really pretty to look out of the van windows and see the pear and cherry trees in full bloom. Everything is peaceful in this moment: some of the girls are sleeping, some are participating in soft chatter, and Sonnie and our advisor (Jennifer) are flipping through the radio stations. I am forgetting all of my stress and just “letting it be.”

Same day: 11:35pm

We arrived at the church around 5pm. The people that greeted us gave us a tour and showed us where we would be sleeping… I called dibs on sleeping on a giant teddy bear in the corner of the room (I’m just weird). After the tour we went to a coffee shop downtown with really good hot chocolate and waited for our dinner table at Crafted, a local taco place. The food was absolutely amazing, but my favorite thing about dinner that night was that we all set our phones down in the middle of the table, agreeing not to use them, so that we could get to know each other better. I learned that Allayna would be joining the Peace Corps after college, volunteering in Indonesia. I learned that Kristen was a Gemini, that Kerry worked at a preschool near campus, and that Jennifer had some really interesting tattoos. All of this I might not have known if I had been tethered to my phone.

Monday: Mar 12 11:48pm

It snowed all day. Isn’t it ironic that as soon as we leave New Jersey, the snow follows us to the south?

For breakfast we went to Cracker Barrel and most of us had pancakes. Again, we put our phones in the middle. I talked to Jamie and Sonnie, and we played those little peg games. Jamie’s smart and she has the pattern figured out for the most part, Sonnie was just learning, but he beat me a couple of times too.  After breakfast we went to the science center, but since there was a snowstorm, they closed an hour after we got there and gave us a refund.

For dinner, we met up with Chris and Claire Teppins (probably the nicest couple I’ve ever met), who help organize the volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. They were shocked that we made it a point to put our phones in the center, but once again, it led to great conversations.

Afterwards we all went to an arcade, and Jennifer played Dance Dance Revolution: SHE WAS SO GOOD AT IT.

Before we went to bed tonight, we put on facemasks and had some deep conversations while playing card games and heads up. I am having the time of my life with this group. We’re all very outgoing and so open with each other and that type of connection to a group is something I have never experienced before.

Tuesday: Mar 13 11:58pm

Today was SO much fun. I woke everyone up at 8am this morning and we went to the Warehouse where Chris was waiting for us with box fulls of warm Krispy Kreme donuts and a day’s work. We started by building benches, and were split up into groups. I worked with Jen, Sonnie, and Allayna to make the first bench. It was really empowering to learn how to use the drill, especially since I learned from Jennifer who is such an amazing role model. Building is usually viewed as a “man’s job,” but she taught me that: screw it, we can literally do anything we want to. And I value that lesson so much. I also worked with Meagan a lot in the warehouse, and it was really inspiring to see her be the “queen of assembly” (of the benches): she knew exactly what she was doing and was even able to help me out when I was struggling. During lunch we all met up to exchange stories: Kerry, Kristen, and Maria had been using the saw all day to cut up pallets and by lunchtime they were the best of friends, so it was really fun to hear their stories of the day through their contagious laughter. We asked the employees for their stories too: one man had worked with NASA, several worked in construction previously, and some were there as volunteers with Americorps. I love learning about people who have different experiences other than my own; I think it’s fascinating. After hoagies and cookies, we unloaded the truck, put together framing, and jammed to my playlist. We piled into the van, covered head to toe in saw dust and headed back to the church for dinner.

There was a playground at the church, and I was so excited about life that I ran there with Jamie and Allayna to play on the swings. Gravity hates me so on my way there, I tripped and face planted into the dirt right in front of the church. It hurt like hell, but we had the best laughs about it. When we finally reached the swingset, I pushed off the ground and I felt so free. I could see over the hills and the graveyard, and I reflected on my day. I was so happy in that moment.

Dinner was the best. We ate at Kathy’s house (she works with the company Qorvo, that was feeding us all week!), and the food was great. Meagan played the piano and Allayna and I started to sing. Kathy really appreciated it and we all bonded so much that night. It was beautiful.

I smashed a cupcake in Sonnie’s face later and we all stayed up really late playing games. I love these people so much. This experience is completely unreal and unlike anything else I have done.

Wednesday: Mar 14 2 am

I don’t even want to think about this week being over. I’m having too much fun for it to end.

We woke up around 7 and we were at the job site around 8 am. We started working on the house today! Kerry and I spent a lot of time together today, and we worked on framing with Hershel and Jim. Hershel is literally the sweetest man ever and he taught me how to use the circular saw and the nail gun (that was a fear of mine that he helped me to conquer!). He also helped me cut slivers of scrap wood in our down time so I can make a craft for everyone in the volunteer group out of parts of the house that we built. He made me laugh and we had such a good time together; I’m so grateful for Hersel. He was really patient with me and taught me so much. After working with Hershel, we broke for lunch. Kathy brought the best pulled chicken sandwiches and sweet tea, and then the rest of my day was spent on the roof with Meagan, Kristen, and Kerry. Collectively, we failed at putting up siding, but together we learned the value in persistence and we didn’t stop trying! I think it took us an hour and a half to get the siding up, before we realized it was all wrong. “Just try again.” Also I conquered my fear of going on the roof!

The church provided us dinner that night, which I am very thankful for, and then Chris and Claire came to the church. We all played “Spoons” and sparked some friendly competition. Sonnie kept attacking the spoons and we were laughing so hard that my cheeks hurt. At one point while I was eagerly shouting, I accidentally spit on Claire. I WAS SO EMBARRASSED. At least we all could laugh it off :)

We got some late night milkshakes at Cookout, I danced with Maria in front of the drive through, and then we reflected on our day. This trip gets better with every passing minute.

Thursday: Mar 15 10:40pm

Holy crap. Only two more nights left including this one. Today I was so happy, because we finally had warm weather. It was “sonnie” outside (lol) and all of the pear tree flowers were blowing in the wind like snow. I worked on the roof with Tay and Meagan a lot today. I also had an awesome conversation with Michelle (she’s there as part of Americorps). She is an inspiring individual, and defies every possible stereotype. She can overcome any barrier on the construction site that a man or woman would face, and I’m so proud of her and glad to have met her. She’s awesome, chill, and freakin’ hilarious! She is a wonderful female role model.  

After working on the roof all day, we went to Dunkin, and then Kathy’s again for dinner. We prepared a song for her this time. “Let it be.” I think she started to tear up. The feeling of being able to move a group of people through music is one of  my favorite feelings in this world.

Friday: Mar 16 11:59pm

I’m dead tired. My whole body hurts- construction work is very physical! We woke up at 6 ish this morning and got to the site at 8. It was beautiful and we all worked on the roof together today. I’ve never felt so strong as I did walking around on the roof with no fear. I felt beautiful even though I was covered in dirt, and I honestly think it was just because I was so happy. We broke for lunch at noon. Chris and Claire dropped it off. I love them- they’re such a cute couple. I’m going to miss them. We made our rounds and said goodbye to the workers. The hardest things are always the goodbyes.

This trip, building homes for Habitat, was the best experience of my life. Every moment was filled with laughter and learning, and it has changed me to look at things more positively. All of the people I have met on this trip, have impacted my life in one way or another, and I love them all for what they have taught me. To be brave. To be strong and empowered. To forgive. To laugh at the little things. To lust for adventure and learning.

We built the house, yes, but I think the house built me. It has built me into a better, happier person.