SUNY Oswego students Samantha Schou and Rebecca Stroh did a #LakerTakeover as group leaders for an Alternative Spring Break trip to Florence, Alabama. They were part of an Oswego team building homes for Habitat for Humanity.
One of the perks of selecting the spring semester as my exchange semester was that I would be able to experience the famous, Spring Break. Growing up in Australia, I would frequently watch American teen TV shows and films which would depicted college students during Spring Break. Thus it was a concept I was familiar with and excited about. Back in Australia we have a “mid-semester break” but this is generally a week where students catch up on their studies, study for exams and rest. Prior to researching my options for Spring Break I assumed that most students went to Florida and partied similar to the film Spring Breakers. This option didn’t really appeal to me because of financial reasons, so I went on the search for alternatives which would still allow me to have fun whilst seeing more of the United States. One of my friends was taking a communications class and her teacher informed her about the alternative spring break trips. She then discussed it with me, we looked at all the different locations which were offered, and we signed up. Prior to arriving in the United States I had no intention of travelling to the MidWest as I did not think the opportunity would arise and in addition to this, it is not exactly the typical tourist destination. We were both excited about the idea of the trip but did not know what to expect.
SUNY Oswego’s alternative spring break’s are organised through Habitat for Humanity, which is a non-profit organisation. I had heard of this organisation and the worthwhile work they do, so I felt comfortable and safe embarking on this trip. Our group was going to Iowa so we were volunteering with the Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity. This specific location builds between 10-12 homes a year which is an incredible movement to be part of.
We travelled through the night in an attempt to preserve whatever sleep patterns we had prior to the trip, and arrived refreshed and ready to explore our new home for the week. We were staying in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in a United Methodist Church, this church was more like a community centre rather than a church. It had modern facilities that we were able to utilise including a basketball court, cinema, games room, three kitchens and general common areas. We spent the day unpacking, becoming familiar with our new setting, preparing for the week ahead and getting to know each other.
Day 2 marked the beginning of our work week and thus our routines were established. We woke at around 7:30am, ate breakfast as a team, travelled to the site and commenced work at 8:30am. This first day we completed a project in the community. We pulled down a fence which surrounded the oldest property in the area. This was a sensational effort on our part, as initially we were predicted to complete the job in three days, we did it in one. We left the site at 3:30pm and spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the main street in Cedar Falls and visited the University of Northern Iowa. Our evening traditions emerged which consisted of watching a crazy number of The Cleveland Show episodes, whilst playing trivia board games, before bed at 11pm.
Once we arrived on site, we were advised that we would be working in the warehouse and creating the exterior frames of a house. I was clueless about framing but fortunately we had an excellent instructor. Framing is reading a wall plan, following the measurements, doing
some basic calculations, cutting the wood to size, fitting the wood together, and nailing the wood together. It’s quite a process. The first day it took each team all day just to complete one wall each as we were all still learning. It was actually St. Patrick’s Day, so after we had finished work for the day, we decided as a team to celebrate by getting a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake – we do not have these in Australia so I was very excited. In the early evening we attended a dinner which the church was hosting, this was great as we were able to interact with and meet some community members. Several of us decided to go for a jog in the later afternoon – it was beautiful. I really enjoyed being in the fresh air and seeing more of the town.
Once agin we were framing, we became slightly better and each team
managed to complete either two or three frames, we saw this as a significant improvement. I discovered that I am allergic to saw dust as even with a ventilator my throat was still irritated. This was annoying but didn’t put a damper on my day as I knew I just had to endure several more days. After we had finished work for the day we went to the local sports complex which was fantastic. We worked-out individually for around half the time, before coming together and having an epic volleyball game.
Day 5 was the last day of framing and by this point we were serious pros. At the end of the day, we had actually completed the entirety of the exterior walls of a home. We were really proud of this effort as not only had all of our construction skills improved, we were the ones responsible for these frames being completed which a family in need would eventually live in. Once we left the site we returned to the church where we had Brinner (breakfast for dinner – duh); it was incredible. We then went downtown to explore the main street more, purchased specialty popcorn and checked out the local ice-cream parlour where we devoured some tasty treats.
Day 6 marked our last day working for Habitat and it was bittersweet. We spent the morning doing another community service project which consisted of pulling down a handicap ramp, and then spent the rest of the day assisting with cleaning up the warehouse and yard before finally doing a photoshoot as a team and saying our goodbyes to the Habitat team. We spent the afternoon packing our bags and napping before heading out for a Mexican dinner and attending a semi-professional Ice hockey game. The Ice hockey game was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. The fans were all shaking their cow bells when their team had possession, and the hosts were engaging with the audience through shouting and dancing competitions. My seat was apparently lucky as I won a coupon for a local ribs outlet.
We hit the road at 7am, Chicago bound. We arrived in Chicago around noon and driving into the city was sensational as we were able to see the skyline and the Willis (Sears) tower very clearly. My first impression of Chicago was that the city is a smaller version of New York City. We explored Millennium Park and I was in awe the entire time. I was so excited to see the Big Bean and couldn’t wait to see what else the city offered. We passed the Chicago river which was still a hint of green from St. Patrick’s Day, and also walked down the Navy Pier. I was amazed by the pier, and Lake Michigan’s beauty. It was one of the most beautiful shades of blue I had ever seen. We had intentions of walking down the magnificent mile and shopping, however our stomach’s interfered with this plan and instead we went to Pizzeria Uno to eat the original Chicago-style deep-dish. We waited around an hour and a half for this pizza, but in my opinion, it was worth it. The pizza had a fruit pie-like base with fresh toppings. After two slices I was uncomfortably full. By this point it was around 5pm and it was time to go. We once again drove through the night and arrived back at campus at approximately 5:20am. Although it was a long day, this day was one of the best days of my life.
We all agreed that the trip was a very worthwhile experience and I would certainly recommend it to students looking to do something different during their break. Working for Habitat put life into perspective for me, and allowed me to see how fortunate, blessed and lucky I am. I want to give back where I can, and prior to this trip I found it difficult to discover these kinds of organisations which were inline with my visions and values. Habitat provides this opportunity in a safe environment with the chance to learn useful, valuable skills. The kinds of people that you meet on these alternative trips are a special kind, I feel it takes a certain type of person to be willing to sacrifice their break in order to go and do community service. I am sure that the friendships which were formed during this trip will last in years to come.
Thankyou SUNY Oswego for providing me with this opportunity, thankyou to the incredible group I was able to experience this with, and a massive thank-you to Scott Ball for being an incredible leader and role model.
….for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -Plato
This quote hit me hard today as I was unwinding with an icepack on the therapy table at physical therapy. Every single person you meet is in the throes of some sort of predicament. What a concept! We’re human after all.
Remember that one person through grade school who just seemed to have it all figured out? Maybe they were super popular, or obliterated the ACTs without studying, or was a star athlete, or out-shined everyone else for the lead in the school play. And hey, maybe for you, normalcy was so beyond your battles that you longed to be normal too. Whatever your muse, we’ve all come across that person at some point that made us say to ourselves, “Ugh, why not me? Why can’t I be like that?” And the saddest part is, we start to answer our very own accusatory, self-destructive questions. “Because I’m lazy”, “because I’m just not smart enough”, “because I’m not talented enough”, “because I’m not physically fit enough” … and BAM! There’s your self-fulfilling prophesy.
Now let’s back away from the philosophy textbook for a second…. allow me to enlighten you on some tried-and-true experience. Once upon a time, I came to Oswego with a thirst for reinvention. But, because of my knack for letting others take advantage of my hospitality, I allowed my goals to become overshadowed with arguments and a depressingly slow start to making friends. I wanted to shed my high school persona and rid myself of the blame-game and create a college experience that would change me for the better.
But it was my love for all things Orientation that kept me on my heels and helped me focus on ensuring a wonderful summer for myself and others. I even made my first best friend at Oswego through Orientation (you know who you are!….. PS it’s fellow blogger Lizz Wetherby). I made sixteen close friends last summer while working with Orientation, and countless more as I gained an invaluable network of peers.
By Fall 2009, one of my co-workers turned me on to the idea of a co-ed service fraternity, and my other collegiate passion was born. Alpha Phi Omega, or APO surrounded me with another set of friends, and the bonds I’ve formed with my fellow Greeks through our community service endeavors still surprise me to this day. And now I’ve got two best friends in the same organization! My wolfpack is now three she-wolves strong.
Anyway, after my pledging semester, I quickly picked up an executive board position as Vice President of Service, second from the President (a fellow Orientation staffer and blogger, Kayle Light – who knew?!) and made 33 more friends as our HUGE pledge class kicked major service butt in the spring. With over 40 active members and a supportive alumni family, you can imagine how my friend situation has progressed over these two years.
So, back to fighting our battles. Amongst all of this lovey-dovey friend stuff, I’ve got my battles, all right. Knee surgery at the very beginning of summer really puts a damper on summer plans (no beach, no swimming, no driving to the movies, etc.) and I’ve gotta admit, it hits hard on the mental and emotional gauges too. And my family is 100% in my corner, but I can see that they’ve got their fair share of battles too. There are times when I find myself laying in bed at 3:30 am staring at the ceiling and my mind’s doing that “Why not me” thing again. But what I never realized is that those people who seem to have it all – and in my case, right now those people are in relationships and have healthy ACL ligaments – don’t quite know how to handle battles like mine. My battles are unique to me, and ya know what? … maybe that person who seems to have it all would buckle under the pressure of a reconstructive surgery and the consequences that go with it while I’ve stored up the secrets and tricks to overcoming not one, but two knee surgeries.
I don’t want anyone else’s battles but mine. But while I sat on that rehab table today, I was amazed at how very little we know about each other’s inner workings. Perhaps it’s a good thing to keep those battles under wraps, but I choose to record them here for others to learn that it’s okay to be fighting.
Rest assured, we are all fighting.
I apologize for my absence on the blogging since the end of last semester, but here’s a little update as to what’s been going on in my life:
Over winter break, I stayed in Oswego all but one week. I worked at Maurices and in the point, our student involvement office. The director of off-campus affairs and myself started to plan a spring picnic on Mother’s day at Breitbeck park here in Oswego. Our vision is to give back to the community for all their support throughout the year and celebrate the youth! There will be food available, games for the younger children, recreational activities and a ‘pamper mom’ station. We’ve collaborated with many businesses in town to have their support at the picnic. I’m really excited to get this project going, I hope this will continue on for years to come! I’ll be graduating soon and so will the student I’m working with to create this event.
Secondly, the assistant director of sustainability and myself have created a “GO GREEN TEAM” as well as coordinating a green kiosk with support from campus life, the department that runs the campus center and all the events that take place within. The Kiosk is designed as a ‘learning through involvement’ tool for students. We’ve allowed this to serve as a community service project for many students a well. I’ve had a lot of students inquire and donate their time to volunteer. We have created 16 weeks of sustainable topics that students can choose from to create their own kiosk week! The actual kiosk itself is made from recycled materials and is about 9 feet long. It’s awesome! In coordination with this, I’ve worked with students for global change, who Katherine Raymond is apart of (shes a fellow blogger, check her out!) to help us with it.
I’ve also been quite busy working with our Civic Engagement coordinator on a sustainability fair we’re hosting on Quest day. Quest day is a day when one, we don’t have any classes and two, it’s a chance for students, staff and faculty to showcase what they’ve been working on! The sustainability fair will run from 4-8pm in the ice arena. There are sooo many vendors coming and the biggest one being GM and their fuel cell car! We’re hoping to draw in a large audience for this event and I’m sure we will. There is a lot of faculty working on the event and I’m excited for it. It’s actually going to be on my 21st birthday too!
My last blog I was thinking about Italy and now…. I’M GOING TO ITALY! I can’t begin to describe how excited I am! I’ll be earning 6 credits while abroad for four weeks. I’ll arrive in Rome, the city where my professor is actually from! Then, we will travel south to Altomonte, the southern part of Italy. I have heard so many great things I’m exicted! There’s a mud spa that students have bragged about and I’m actually going to get to experience it! I’ve begun to budget my money so that I’ll have plenty of spending money! I’ve also started my passport process, which is an extremely long process I’ve discovered. Financial aid will help cover the majority of the cost and I’m looking at flights. I found one for about $970 round trip which is relatively inexpensive!
Aside from all my extra curricular activities, seems like I don’t attend class huh? Well I do I promise! I really enjoy all of my classes this semester. Which is weird, because there is usually one that I’m not a huge fan of but I can honestly say, I like them all! I’ve started dipping into my business courses for my minor and I started to second guess myself as to why I didn’t major in business, but then again I really love PR! So, I can’t complain ☺. I’ve also been searching for some graduate schools and I’ve fallen in love with West Virginia University. I love the mountaineer football for one, two I love the mountains and three they have a great corporate communication program (should probably be the number one reason for liking the school :-p)
So anyway, there’s an update on my life for now, there’s a lot more to come as it is time for the new Student Association president. I’m acting as the campaign manager for a candidate and it’s getting intense, the elections are March 10 and 11. I’ll update more about this later!
Have a wonderful day☺
P.S we still have snow, but it’s Oswego, we’ll have snow until about April. I really enjoy it though, it’s something to talk about 30 years from now and gives the city character☺