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The Carletonian

Spring Break Away 2010: “Building Homes, Changing Communities, One House at a Time”

< a grueling Winter Term at Carleton, long-awaited Spring Break finally came: a perfect time to catch up on sleep, kill a few brain cells in front of the tube, finally conquer the last level of Final Fantasy XIII, hit the beach, start that diet, work on the Writing Portfolio, and all the other activities that were put off in the dark winter months.

However, for a group of driven Carls, Spring Break was not an ordinary road trip, but rather a trip full of hard labor, new friends, and discussion of socioeconomic class issues.

Between March 17 and March 28, 44 Carleton students and one staff member set out on three different Spring Break Away trips to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Waterloo, Iowa, and Eagle Butte, South Dakota.

Habitat for Humanity International Quick Facts

Habitat for Humanity International was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. After Millard’s early business success, the Fullers decided to devote their lives to building no-profit, no-interest homes for low-income families. The Fuller family moved to Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, in 1973.

While there, they worked on a successful housing project, which they brought back to the United States in 1976 as Habitat for Humanity International. Since then, this “nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry” has built over 350,000 houses worldwide.

The Trips

With the coordination skills of Fernie Rodriguez, Hall Director of Watson/East Side Houses, Carleton sent three groups to three states for three very different experiences volunteering with Habitat. This is the first time that Rodriguez has ever coordinated the Spring Break Away trips. 

Nonetheless, this year marked one of the largest turnouts in Spring Break Away’s twenty-year history. Thanks to early publicizing and support from Laura Riehle-Merrill, Director of the ACT Center, and financial support from CSA, 67 students applied and 37 were selected to take part in Spring Break Away 2010.

Two site leaders were selected for each trip in the fall. The site leaders planned the rest of the trip — from selecting the participants to finding activities to do in each town. These trips proved to be great learning opportunities on many levels.  It allows Carls to get to know other Carls who would not normally come in contact with each other.   On a wider scale, Carls learn firsthand how much work goes into constructing houses and how housing issues affect individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Waterloo, IA

A small but illustrious group of 14 Carls traveled to Waterloo with hammer and nail in hand. This excitable bunch included Shannon Mueller ’12 and Angela Kim ’12 as site leaders. With a population of over 66,000, Waterloo is a high flood area, so the students worked mainly on renovating flood damaged homes in a former military housing area. This included installing insulation and siding. Habitat has been building and renovating in the “Iowa Heartland” area since 1990. Some things that made this trip memorable were working alongside the ever-present homeowner Alisha.  The homeowners must put in labor for a certain number of hours, known as “sweat-equity.”   The group also enjoyed bowling, maple sugaring, and a visit to a dairy farm.

“One thing I enjoyed was meeting students at Carleton you would not normally meet.” Mueller ’12 said.

Fort Smith, AR

“Life’s Worth Living in Fort Smith, Arkansas” is the motto of this Northfield-esque town with a population of over 80,000. The Fort Smith group included site leaders Ryan Farkas ’10 and Emily Kelly ’11, and 12 rambunctious Carls.
Over 75 Habitat homes have been constructed in Fort Smith since 1989. The Carleton group that went worked on houses 79 and 80.  

“[The work] was worthwhile even without meeting the family because it was for a good cause,” Farkas ’10 said.
Group members cited highlights of this trip as seeing the wildlife of Oklahoma, meeting people in the community, such as the various church members who provided copious amounts of food, and the mayor. They also explored various museums, including an old brothel, and made an appearance on the local news.

Eagle Butte, SD

“Okiciyapi Tipi” in the Lakota language means “People helping people build houses.” This trip was much different from the others because the students worked on a Lakota Reservation which has a population of 700.

The work that the Carleton group did on the Reservation was mostly renovation – with a little demolition along the way.  The group of 16, led by Anne Triest ’10 and Kazufumi Sato, included DeAngelo Washington, the Assistant Director of Intercultural and International Life at Carleton.

The Carls learned a bit of the Lakota language and they were treated to a traditional Lakota dinner. This group was not only “helping people build houses,” but they were also helping preserve a little of the Lakota culture by being open to learning about their people.

“We had strong group bonding because we did not know what to expect; there were constant surprises,” Triest ’10 said.

Spring Break Away 2011

Rodriguez said that next year’s Spring Break Away trips will be even more expansive because ACT plans to partner with other offices within Student Life. They plan on offering four trips: two Habitat trips, one LGBT-themed trip, and one Civil Rights exploration trip. Consequently, more students will be able to take part in Spring Break Away  and to explore issues around the country.

“Habitat is only one small component compared to all the other opportunities,” Rodriguez said.

Of next year’s trips, Rodriguez said that information and applications would become available next fall. “Take the application seriously, be open, and apply!”

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