Rebuilding Communities During Break

Posted on April 22nd, 2010 by

Katie Peterson '10 on the 2007 Spring Break Work Trip. (Photo submitted)

Written by Jaimie Farel ’10

Katie Peterson ’10 embodies the Gustavus mission of leading and serving. For all four years of her Gustavus education, she has spent her spring breaks serving others instead of vacationing on sandy beaches.

Peterson, a biology major, is a four-time Gustavus Spring Break Work Trip volunteer and the 2010 New Orleans site coordinator.  She and other Gusties continue the decades-long tradition of Spring Break Work Trips. This year, Peterson and 94 other students traveled to work at Habitat for Humanity affiliate sites in Miami, New Orleans, or Laredo, Texas.  They worked to build houses and rebuild communities.

Peterson says the trips are rewarding and have been a very important part of her Gustavus experience.  “I kept signing up for the Spring Break Work Trips because I had such a great experience meeting and working with new people in an environment different than school, and it gave me the chance to help change a family’s life,” Peterson says.

As a student leader/coordinator, Peterson most enjoyed seeing the growth and self-discovery in everyone. “For some people it may be the first time they have ever held a hammer, but by the end of the week they are hammering like a pro! It is so great to see people working together to achieve a common goal.”

“It’s really powerful for students to have interactions with the homeowners and understand the challenges they are facing,” says Dave Newell ’03, Gustavus’s director of community-based programs. “It’s eye-opening for students to understand the background of how homeowners end up where they are and hear where they expect to go in the future. And, how this house that we are building for them is an integral part of their future.”

Having worked alongside students in Miami in 2010, Newell says, “For me it’s really rewarding to just have the opportunity to engage with students in a different way.”

The work trip to Laredo offered students the opportunity to tie into this year’s Gustavus Reading-in-Common book, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. “We really focused on making that connection and inviting first-year students to participate and continue that learning,” says Newell. Enrique, the young boy in the true story, crossed the border to the United States in Laredo.

Planning is already underway for next year’s Spring Break Work Trips, and students can join the Gustavus Chapter of Habitat for Humanity anytime throughout the academic year.  “My advice for anyone even thinking about doing a Habitat trip,” Peterson says, “is you should go at least once because it’s a great experience!”

Here is a short video about the 2010 Spring Break Work Trips:


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