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.