Alternative Fall Breaks 2013

During Fall Break in October 2013, students, faculty and staff visited five communities to perform service. They traveled to Hartshorne, Oklahoma, to do home repairs for homeowners; to Oklahoma City to work with the regional food bank; to San Antonio to engage in community development and youth education; and to Bridgeport, Texas, to work at a nonprofit animal sanctuary. A group also remained in Dallas to work at a women’s shelter.

‘You can still do something to help’

Genesis

At the Genesis Women’s Shelter Thrift Shop in Dallas

An update from Danielle, a junior majoring in Spanish and the SMU Alternative Breaks student director who served as a site leader in Dallas:

“Beep, beep, beep, beep.” I sluggishly rolled over in my bed at 7 a.m. Saturday to silence my dinging alarm. I ate breakfast and prepared to meet my Fall Alternative Break participants outside Hughes-Trigg Student Center; we were going to Genesis Women’s Shelter to prepare a pancake breakfast for the women and children.

Over Fall Break, we immersed ourselves in the social issue of domestic violence by volunteering at the Genesis Thrift Store, touring and volunteering at the shelter, and participating in an educational seminar. This past Saturday, our group decided to volunteer at the shelter again to continue the great work and learning experiences that we had over break. On Saturday, we arrived at the shelter just after 8, and we all jumped in to work as if we were there every Saturday. “Where’s the bowl?” “Start heating up the pans!” “Arrange the toppings!” There were only a few women chatting at the breakfast tables when we started cooking in the kitchen; they quickly realized why we had come and their appreciation was evident.

We made plain pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, pancakes with sprinkles, and even pancakes in the shapes of snowmen for the kids in light of Saturday’s frigid weather and winter storm warnings. The faces of the children were entirely covered in chocolate and maple syrup, and their excitement about this special treat was uncontainable. It seems that on the weekends, a normal breakfast at the shelter consists of cereal, muffins, granola, and coffee; so hot breakfast, especially with chocolate, is a very special treat.

After all of the women and children were on a sugar high and could not squeeze anything else in their stomachs, they began to disperse to start their days. One lady, however, sat while her young daughter was diligently trying to devour the pancake in one bite. The woman and I started talking, and before I knew it, I was sitting at the table having a conversation with her while the rest of my group worked in the kitchen. She asked me about myself, SMU, and where I am from. She mentioned that she used to volunteer in shelters too and she really hoped that we would come back soon.

One of her comments in particular, though, has crossed my mind every day for the last week; she thoughtfully said, “Regardless of the situation you’re in, you can still do something to help others.” Given the fact that this woman and her child are at Genesis because she does not have a safe place to go or the means to escape her abuser, but yet she still continues to think about the wellbeing of others, truly amazes me. As our holiday season continues, I think this woman brings a perspective that many of us should really consider. “Don’t waste your time thinking about what you don’t have; think about what you do have.”

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A chance to change lives

SanAntonio

The group after a long day of work at Haven for Hope in San Antonio.

An update from Sara Ann, a sophomore majoring in psychology and minoring in education who participated in the Alternative Breaks trip to San Antonio:

Our Alternative Breaks trip to San Antonio was one I’ll never forget. Although it was only a few days long, our group became friends almost instantly. And when you have friends doing service with you, the most mundane and repetitive tasks, like making PB&J sandwiches, can become a game of speed or a bonding moment. We had each other to make jokes and laugh with and to keep the energy going throughout long days of service.

The community service we did was meaningful and rewarding, but the biggest impact that the trip had on me was when we returned. As soon as we got back to Dallas, our faculty advisor from the trip pulled together a few Dallas chefs who would be willing to take Shiloh as their intern if he were able to come to Dallas; Shiloh is a funny and caring teenager who worked with us all day at a kitchen that feeds the homeless in San Antonio. It’s clear that Shiloh has a passion for learning and creating a future for himself. He attended cooking lessons while simultaneously taking online courses for school.

Surprisingly enough, Shiloh and his family are homeless. But, homelessness does not stop him from working toward his dreams. When we worked in the kitchen with him, we could all see the ambition he had to make his life better. Now, Shiloh is scheduled to come to Dallas in December, where all of his travel and lodging will be covered and he’ll have the opportunity to learn from some of the most well-known and successful chefs in the Dallas area. If all goes well, he will be able to build an impressive resume, be considered for scholarships, become closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming a chef, and be reunited with our Alternative Breaks group.

When I heard that this was actually going to happen, I couldn’t believe it. Our faculty advisor from the trip, Mark Melton, a professor at SMU, was going to singlehandedly change another person’s life. I am truly inspired by what Mark has arranged and it has made me think about what I can do and the difference I can make, even though I’m just a college student.

And this is why I think Alternative Breaks is so important. The organization introduces you to people who will inspire you and change your life. I’m happy to say that my love for Alternative Breaks will continue as I am blessed to be participating in a trip to St. Louis during this coming Spring Break. If you have never been on an Alternative Breaks trip, I strongly encourage you to do so, because you never know who you will meet and whose lives you’ll change.

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There’s a lot of Heart in Hartshorne

Hartshorne

An update from Liz, a junior, who participated in the Alternative Fall Breaks trip to Hartshorne, Oklahoma:

How I spent fall break of my junior year is not what people would typically imagine a college student doing. This year I was privileged enough to travel to Hartshorne, Oklahoma, with SMU Alternative Breaks and work to rebuild a home that the organization Rebuilding Together had sponsored.

Before I delve into my attempt of a lofty and deserving reflection of this trip, I suppose I should first provide some background of Hartshorne and Rebuilding Together. Hartshorne is a small town located just outside McAlester, Oklahoma, and 1,800 people call it home. Around 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and is subject to the cyclical effects of such living conditions. You can find vacant buildings lining downtown and four Head Start centers within the town limits.

Due to the poverty that Hartshorne faces, Rebuilding Together has become active in helping those living in unsound housing throughout the community. Rebuilding Together is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the country that “provides critical repairs and renovations to low-income homeowners across the United States.” In comparison to Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together works to repair homes that are in a dilapidated state rather than building homes from the beginning foundations.

In this small Oklahoma town, poverty knows no gender, race, or demographic. It has plagued the town for years, and yet, there is hope. There is hope from the neighboring community of McAlester, hope in the eyes of Alan and Phillip of Rebuilding Together, and while our group was there, hope that we made some kind of difference for at least a few people. This trip may have only been four days, but oh what a four-day alternative break it was.

After dropping off our bags at First United Methodist Church, our group immediately headed off for the build site. While we rocked down to Electric Ave. (thank you, Hartshorne for that freeway exit and Eddy Grant for that classic) I began to wonder what exactly we would be doing to help these Hartshorne residents. But once we unloaded the van and met Alan, who works for Rebuilding Together, I immediately realized we would be doing absolutely nothing that I expected.

Collectively we only had the construction experience of hanging a chandelier, and that experience was from our trip adviser Annie Bures. However, Rebuilding Together did not hold that against us, and immediately entrusted us with the level of responsibility of a somewhat experienced person in construction.

While we were there we repaired two rooms that were in drastic need of some TLC. To see a ‘room’ with no ceiling, no walls and a floor riddled with holes and be told that we were going to repair it is incomparable. The first order of business was to remove the rotten particle flooring and patch up the gaping holes. Not as easy as it sounds, but with a little help from a crowbar and a circle saw we were able to finish the flooring in one day. I could explain every detail of what we did and how we did it but I believe a list would suffice. With 11 people and 209 labor hours we were able to drywall, joint tape, and mud two rooms; we also built a floor and ceiling, insulated, and wired and installed sockets. All in all, we created a master bedroom and front room for an ever-deserving couple.

By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, 15 people were able to stand in a room that had previously been a challenge to navigate safely. I cannot put into words the feeling of not only accomplishment but also of gratitude and appreciation I had as we circled up to say our goodbyes to the homeowners and Rebuilding Together. That feeling of knowing that where you stood four days before was a hole leading to the ground will be ingrained in my memory forever.

After this break, I come back knowing more about what man is capable of doing than ever before. To witness the emotional, physical and spiritual strength of the homeowners as well as the alternative break program gives me hope in the future. This notion particularly resonated with me as I watched Vicki and Rick display a resilient attitude and high-spirited outlook on life, especially in the face of their situation. I have come back from this trip with new knowledge about home repair, life and the humanity in helping one another.

As John Wooden said, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you”; and this year, I had four perfect days of fall break thanks to SMU Alternative Breaks.

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More than 24,500 meals ready to go

FoodBank

The SMU Alternative Breaks team in Oklahoma City.

An update from Elizabeth, a sophomore majoring in international studies who participated in the Alternative Breaks trip to Oklahoma City’s regional food bank:

How does one begin to describe an Alternative Breaks SMU trip? As I write this on my trip home, it’s hard to sum up how amazing this Fall Break experience was.

Our home for several days was First United Methodist Church in downtown Oklahoma City. They welcomed us with big arms and even bigger hearts, hosting us for four days while we completed our service at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

On our first day at the Food Bank, we sorted packages of boxed foods for families and individuals in need who receive food from an organization the Food Bank supplies. All the items at the bank are donated, so one does not always know what to expect when volunteering, especially for four days in a row.

After a trip to the grocery store to buy food for our meals, we headed home to First United to prepare a feast of spaghetti, breadsticks, and veggies. One night we were lucky enough to have a fellow SMU student’s parents provide a homemade meal, complete with brownies!!! (The extra exclamation points show our extreme gratitude and excitement for moments like this on AB trips.)

Overall, our four days of sorting, quality-checking, and packaging 24,526 meals that will eventually make it into the hands of young and old Oklahomans was such an incredible experience to make new friends, help those in need, and make our college experience that much richer.

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