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Why You Should Attend a Spring Break Habitat Trip

How would you best like to spend your Spring Break? I had the opportunity to travel down to John’s Island in South Carolina this past Spring Break with a group of 15 students to perform service work for Habitat for Humanity. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised to be faced with rewarding hard work on-site compounded with nonstop bonding off-site. 

Many of us heard of Habitat for Humanity before, portrayed as an organization that gives away houses for free in the media. While the altruistic nature of Habitat is present, I learned that it works more to collaborate with homeowners and set them up for success by building a house with them. On our first day on the site, we attended an orientation where we learned about the work of Habitat and the specific homes and homeowners we would be working with. Homeowners collaborate with volunteers to build their own homes. They have a certain number of work hours they must complete in their house called ‘sweat equity’ to be eligible for the program. It was entirely fulfilling to be working on the site with our homeowner, Ms. Gloria. It motivated us to do our best work, knowing that we would be sanding the porch she would be with for years. We also learned that Habitat provides financial literacy classes, home care classes, and more aids for homeowners. Habitat’s commitment to playing a crucial role in homeowners’ long-term success and stability struck me in a profound way. 

What I also entirely enjoyed was being immersed in the history of South Carolina and learning about the impact of slavery. Heir’s property is a phenomenon that severely affects Habitat’s mission. During emancipation, many slaveholders in South Carolina split their land among their slaves. Future generations would continue to divide their land until dozens of people owned certain pieces of land on the same property. These pieces of land today go unused because it is too difficult for potential homeowners to gain the signatures of all relatives who partially own this land to be approved. Thus, large plots of land go unused, adding to the issue of housing accessibility and affordability. Learning about these aspects of the community and Habitat gave me a strong understanding of why this work was valuable.  

On-site, our work consisted of 3 houses, all placed next to each other. One had only the foundational concrete structures placed in, the other had the flooring system present, and the last house was essentially complete. I had completed most of my work on the flooring system, which was far more intensive than expected. Honestly, I have virtually no experience with building houses. 

This trip was my first time hammering a nail into wood. Although these nails would bend on occasion, and I would often miss and hit my finger, I eventually got the hang of it despite my sore arms. What had to be the most intensive work we did was dispersing concrete into the foundational system of one of the houses. As a concrete truck approached, we all stood, shovels ready in hand to move the chunky, liquid rocks throughout the structure. It felt like no matter how much we shoveled, the concrete kept pouring, and nothing was moving. Still, it was great to see our teamwork as all of us would move to certain parts of the site if the concrete was overflowing there. Although this work was brutal, it was rewarding to see the final product of concrete smoothly distributed in the divisions. We even got to write our names and sweet messages on the cement. 

Ultimately, what had to be the highlight of my trip was the bonding moments I had with the other members on and off-site. I knew a few people before the trip, but I didn’t realize how much closer I would get with everyone on the trip, even the people I didn’t know. The car rides were full of frustration over riddles, screaming songs, and naps on each other. Every night after our workdays from 8 AM – 4 PM, we would do a number of different activities.

If we weren’t going out, we would stay in and play tons of combinations of ‘system,’ a game where someone makes up a pattern for the group, and one person has to ask questions to figure out the pattern. We went to a few dinner places including, ‘Krazy Owls’ and the ‘Tattooed Moose’ with delicious food. What had to be my highlight was walking around Charleston and watching sunsets on the beach. What will stay with me is all of the inside jokes and connections I made with everyone in my group and as an overall community.