For most Gustavus students, Fall Break is a time to return home and visit family, reflect on the first half of Fall Semester, and rejuvenate the mind and body in preparation for the second half of the semester. But for a group of 16 Gustavus students, Fall Break (Oct. 20-23) was a time to bond together and serve a community in need through the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity.
Gustavus students have a longstanding tradition of traveling across the country during Spring Break on Habitat for Humanity service trips, but this year marked the first time that a group of students utilized Fall Break to organize a Habitat trip. Recent graduate Alina Stevenson ’12, who is working as an AmeriCorps VISTA with North St. Louis County Habitat for Humanity, worked with current student leaders involved with Gustavus’s Habitat chapter to organize the trip to the Iron Range in northern Minnesota.
“We knew from feedback and comments last year that our volunteers were interested in doing trips and builds aside from just the spring break trips, so we’ve been working to arrange builds in the local area,” Gustavus senior Tristan Richards ’13 said. “When Alina emailed us at the beginning of the year and wanted to set up a work weekend, we knew that Fall Break would be the perfect opportunity. It was great timing because we didn’t have to work around class or work schedules, and everyone was able to stop focusing on school and be in the moment for a few days.”
Richards was one of three team leaders on the trip, along with juniors Megan Maricle-Roberts ’14 and Ashley Perish ’14. The group spent one day working at a site in Babbitt, Minn., re-roofing a garage, performing insulation work, and putting together ventilation for a dryer. Another day was spent in Virginia, Minn., insulating the outside of a rehab house, cleaning up a construction site, and making trips to a landfill and recycling center.
“I was astonished by how thankful everyone was. Everyone at the work site, everyone at the churches, and really anyone we told about our purpose in Virginia was so thankful for what we were doing,” Maricle-Roberts said. “I was able to realize how important this work is and how our group volunteering and my own service affects not just the homeowners and Habitat for Humanity, but also the whole community. It was really powerful and moving to me.”
On Sunday of the trip, the group attended church at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, did some hiking at Giants Ridge, and spent time reflecting around a bonfire at the home of a Habitat employee. Richards said that just like on longer Habitat trips, the group made it a priority to emphasize reflection.
“I think for me the most powerful part of the trip was reflection with my team,” Richards said. “Five of us sat down every night and I led a discussion about what we had seen or done that day. I watched people really wrestle and think critically about what they were doing, and I was constantly impressed with the level of focus and passion that I witnessed in them.”
Those who participated in the trip said it was a valuable experience and one that they will consider doing again in the future.
“I believe that Gustavus students should consider a Habitat trip even if they are remotely curious about the program. Even after one outing I find myself quite hooked and look forward to many more outings,” sophomore Kyle Bright ’15 said.
“Any student who is interested in donating their time and effort to help another person should go on the trip,” Maricle-Roberts said. “Habitat trips let the volunteers see first-hand how their service directly affects another person. The trips also provide a close group atmosphere with other Gusties to create a strong sense of the power of working together to achieve a goal.”
Gustavus’s Center for Servant Leadership will be sponsoring three Habitat for Humanity Spring Break service trips in late March and early April. Destinations for those trips include Sumter, South Carolina, Maryville, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama. There are 27 spots available for each trip. Students can sign up for a trip or obtain more information by contacting Dave Newell in the Center for Servant Leadership at email@example.com or 507-933-6069, or by contacting the Gustavus Habitat board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s impossible to understand the Habitat experience until you’re there. It’s one thing to say that you’re going to go build a house and talk about what you’re experiencing, but it’s a completely different ball game to actually be there,” Richards said. “To meet and work alongside the family that you’re building for, to sleep in a church, to watch people swing their first hammer, to see people evolve completely from day one to the end of the week, to hear them processing the things they’re witnessing, and to create an incredible bond with a group of Gusties that you probably wouldn’t have ever known without the trip. Habitat opens your eyes and, at least for me, instills a passion for this type of work.”