Growing up, my dad was always the handy man in our family. Many of our home improvement projects around the house were one-man jobs.
My dad would end up completing them once he returned home from his full-time job in the evenings. My sister and I would help by vacuuming up dust or taking out the trash, but never, NEVER did I think that I would one day be skilled enough or trusted enough to help to rebuild a complete stranger's home!
My first alternative break experience was in January of 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana with Stevenson University’s Mission I’m Home. We helped Mr. Foto rebuild his childhood home, which had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina 12 years prior. That’s right, it took 12 years to obtain the resources and assistance necessary to rebuild. Since then, I have traveled to Baton Rouge (March 2017) and back to New Orleans (January 2018). While I am no expert, I have gained quite a bit of experience through my three alternative breaks. Here are a few of the lessons I learned along the way:
1. Pack light!
My favorite thing about alternative break trips is that there is no one to impress. My hair remains in braids for the entire week and there is not a stitch of makeup on my face. Over time, I’ve been able to consolidate my pack to consist of just one pair of work pants, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a hoodie, and two “lounge outfits” for after-work hanging out at camp. Like I said, there is no one to impress.
2. Layers are your best friend.
Whether it is on the job site or back at camp, layers will be your best friend. I can’t tell you how many times I have worn jeans, a hoodie, and a windbreaker on Monday only to be in shorts and a t-shirt by Friday. This goes for hanging at camp too. I often get cold at night, so having an extra blanket or hoodie to wear to bed can make all the difference when it comes to a good night’s sleep.
3. Bring your own refillable water bottle.
When on an alternative break trip, you are working hard and running on adrenaline. Sometimes you are away from camp for upwards of 10 hours. So, make sure you fill up your water bottle in the morning and don’t let it leave your side. A nice Camelback or Nalgene and a granola bar can save the day. Trust me.
4. Take time to talk.
Some of my favorite memories from alternative break experiences are when I sit and have meaningful conversations. It could be your build buddy, the home owner, the cafeteria staff, the waiter at the local restaurant…anyone! Just talk. Get to know them, the area, and what they have been through. More often than not, the locals appreciate the work you are doing, and you get to appreciate the insight they provide.
5. Dance it out!
Like my first tip, there is no one you need to impress on an alternative break trip. You are there to work hard, learn, and have fun along the way. So let loose and don't worry about being embarrassed! Don’t be afraid to dance in Jackson Square or on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol or even on your lunch break. Who knows, maybe even a second line band will join in!
Lauren Novsak is a Business Communication major at Stevenson University. Originally from South Jersey, Lauren currently serves as the Director of Public Relations and Alumni Outreach for Stevenson’s Student Government Association. Lauren recently completed a term as a Sondheim Nonprofit Leadership Scholar with the Shriver Center at UMBC.