As we tore down old drywall and put up insulation, we also broke down mental barriers and built up new relationships.
This past March, I went on my third Alternative Spring Break trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The main objective of every trip is to help rebuild homes for those affected by flooding and natural disasters. What ends up happening on those trips is so much bigger than the physical construction that goes on during the day. Each member grew closer through turning a hollow structure into a loving home.
As the sun began to set towards the end of the day, a campfire was always built to keep the conversation going. Each evening of the week, we would build a fire while listening to music. Light chatter would fill the air as the sky grew darker, and then at a certain point the volume would lessen as a prompt would be proposed. The prompt would never be more than a sentence long, but the stories that could be derived from it were endless.
If you could give one bit of advice to a massive group of people what would it be?
Who was (or is) the most influential person in your life?
If you could better yourself in one way what would it be?
What was a turning point in your life?
Once the question was announced, the crowd would be silent until a brave soul would volunteer to go first. As that one person spoke, everyone listened. For some, that campfire was the first time they could be heard by a group of people who were willing to listen to understand, rather than to listen to respond. We had no agenda and no real direction other than the prompt. You could do whatever you wanted with the words that came to your mind. As people narrated their stories, everyone’s eyes were in the same place: the fire. The heat of the flame comforted us in the cold night air. The soft glow showed we weren’t alone in the dark. The smell of the campfire added a homey coziness while we shared and listened. Every storyteller talked into the flame, letting the words radiate from the blaze.
As the fire died down and the glow faded, a feeling of belonging stayed with each member. They were surrounded by people who cared, listened, and understood. As each person exhaustively climbed into bed, the stories that were told around the fire replayed in their mind as they drifted off to sleep. Those stories created bonds that carried momentum into the next day. We became closer as a family every day that passed.
The world is full of stories, and the best part is you don’t need a campfire to hear them. The only fuel needed to light someone’s flame is an open ear and a curious heart. Cory Ott is currently a senior Psychology major at Stevenson University who recently returned from an Alternative Spring Break trip with Stevenson's Mission: I'm Home. After graduating in May, Cory I will be attending The Institute of World Politics for a Master's degree in National Security Affairs and Statecraft. Connect with Cory.