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Another Way to Spend Break

November 2, 2010

87352

DePauw’s Office of Civic, Global and Professional Opportunities organizes an Alternative Break every semester, sending students – who forgo trips home – on service projects around the country. This fall, 12 students traveled to Jonesville, Va., for a week of construction work with the Appalachian Service Project (ASP). The organization maintains housing service centers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, areas of Appalachia where more than 300,000 people live in poverty, and tens of thousands of homes lack adequate kitchens or plumbing.

During their week in and around Jonesville, the students worked on projects characterized more by the families they helped than by the difficulty of their labor.

One group – led by junior Sydney L. Crouch of Dayton, Ohio, this year’s student coordinator for the alternative breaks – worked on the home of a family who has lived in tents since the beginning of the summer. When the father suffered a heart attack in their old home, the family feared he could no longer handle the physical strain of climbing the long flight of stairs that led to their front door.

87353The family began to build a new home on another property, only to have their building materials stolen from the site. The loss was a significant financial setback for a family already faced with terrific difficulties. To prevent it from happening again, they set up tents in which they could monitor their unfinished home throughout the night. ASP soon stepped in to expedite the building process.

The volunteers began the week on their backs, installing insulation beneath the home before they moved on to other jobs around the house. By their last day, their work was finished, but they regretted having to leave.

“On Monday, we were miserable – it was a long day,” Crouch says. “If you had asked me whether we were going to make it through the rest of week, I wouldn’t have known. But by the time Friday came along, we were finished with our work, and it was really hard to leave the family. Everybody was getting teary eyed. They were with us the entire time, and we talked with them and got to know their story. It was really amazing being able to connect with the family instead of just building a house for somebody we didn't know.”

A second group of students, joined by Ann B. Malloy, assistant director of DePauw’s Women’s Center, spent the week repairing a retired couple’s roof. A leak had started to flood the house when it rained, causing dangerous living conditions for the wife, who had been diagnosed with cancer.

87354The group spent the week building a new roof segment to span the gap between the home and the new addition. As their work progressed, they, too, became closer to the family they were serving. For the international students on the trip, it was also an opportunity to learn more about their host country.

“We formed a wonderful relationship with Mary and Joe, the house owners,” says Danyue Hu, a junior from Beijing. “Mary told me stories about her youth and showed me things from when she was a little girl, things I’d only seen in Chinese museums. I’m from a big city, so I was also curious about all of the trees and wildlife there. Mary and Joe taught me a few things about nature, and on our last day, Joe went to the mountain and picked lots of hazelnuts and walnuts for me to bring back.”

“I met so many nice people during our work, and I was really moved by this kind of volunteer spirit in the United States,” Hu says.  “It really taught me about American society, and I feel like I have a deeper and better understanding of my American friends now.”

Alternative Break trips have travelled to many locations across the United States, including New Orleans, La., Hattiesburg, Miss., Asheville, N.C., and Biloxi, Miss., and have worked with such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, Mountain Housing Opportunities, and Hands on Gulf Coast. For information about applying for DePauw's spring Alternative Break, contact communityoutreach@depauw.edu.

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