If asked four weeks ago, explain your ideal Spring Break? I’d respond with either; a cruise adventure trek with friends to an all inclusive resort on a Caribbean Island with sun screen, swimsuits, and tan lines or an international backpacking trip with friends to Spain, full of sightseeing, foreign languages, cultural foods, dances and crazy night life activities. However, now, I see the ideal spring break as a domestic trip eight hours away to Pittsboro, North Carolina with twenty strangers, full of stucco stained t-shirts, dirt spoiled jeans, mud soaked sneakers, aching muscles and sweat filled bandanas from a hard day’s work.
On February 28th at 8:00am, 20 strangers boarded two white twelve-person vans and one white minivan with 20 suitcases, 20 pillows, extra blankets and 40 tired eyes, equipped for the eight hour drive to Pittsboro, North Carolina. In early February we all submitted applications for a Spring Break Habitat Experience through Villanova University to volunteer our time for a week with Habitat for Humanity. Randomly selected, the twenty of us formed the Pittsboro crew.
The Villanova Habitat for humanity seeks to promote awareness of poverty locally, as well as nationally. Groups venture to various locations throughout the United States taking an active role in helping and improving the lives of others. Villanova’s efforts are year-round, volunteering weekends to build in neighboring sites as well as service trips during breaks.
After three pit stops, sing-a-longs to oldies and the latest pop hits, five dollar foot-longs from Subway, and pouring rain, we made it to Camp Royal, a summer camp administered by the Autism society of North Carolina. The owners of the camp generously allowed us to stay granting us access to a cabin, recreational room, dining hall and a kitchen. When we arrived Paul and Hyden, AmeriCorps volunteers, greeted us with information regarding Habitat for Humanity, an itinerary for the week, and directions to many local restaurants, churches and supermarkets.
As AmeriCorps volunteers, Paul and Hyden devote a year of their life to service. Options for volunteers range from tutoring disadvantaged youths to building affordable housing. Builders, Paul and Hyden work every week with new volunteers to provide affordable housing in Chatham County. The Chatham Habitat for Humanity, established in 1989, finished their first home in February 1990. Since then, the organization has worked with over sixty-seven families to build and purchase affordable housing. Habitat relies on the involvement of the community and volunteers.
An unfortunate snow storm prevented us from working on Monday but on Tuesday March 3, our vans turned right onto a gravel road and parked outside two unfinished ranchers. The two-story colonial on the right, soon to be owned by a family of four, lacked any siding, while the house on the left, soon to be owned by a family of two, needed a lot of work done before tending to the outside of the house. Without hesitation Paul and Hyden informed us of proper safety and the next thing I knew I was working on the one-story house hammering two pieces of wood together creating what would soon be a closet. Paul informed us this house is not only helping the family, but in the end will showcase energy and environmentally friendly features.
After the first two days of finishing odds and ends inside and preparing stucco outside the house, Thursday we mounted the scaffolding and got to work on the base coat of stucco. A Professional came in and showed us techniques. He made it look easy. Easy, it was not. After spilling half the stucco on my old pair of Gap jeans, accidentally wiping it in my hair and on my face, and many different methods of approach to tackling this task, we finally got into the groove.
The home owner came with her son and surprisingly approved of our work, which inspired us to finish two walls by the end of the day, and when three o’clock rolled around we did just that.I learned a lot that day. Not only how to stucco, but how to work harmoniously with others. Our task was not easy, but finally we mastered what we thought impossible. Seeing the homeowners also inspired us to get the job done efficiently and reminded us that though there is frustration, in the end, it is worth every stucco stain.
Our final day stirred up emotions within all of us. The volunteers we worked with from the Chatham Country area thanked us for our help, but it is in fact these who are the true heroes of Habitat for Humanity. Day after day they devote their time and energy to helping others by giving them a chance to live as normal a life as possible. Without their help we also wouldn’t possess the capabilities to complete the tasks we did all week long.
When three o’clock rolled around that Friday, the base coat resided on all four walls of the house and the inside was prepared for inspection. Later that night we sat around a bonfire reflecting on our week experience. Looking around the fire I saw people who, only a week ago, were strangers to me, and now, I saw a friend in all of their faces. It’s funny how you can know someone your whole life without really knowing them, but spend a week with twenty strangers and, by the end of the week, know them better than your best friends. Sharing our Habitat experiences allowed for us to connect with many different people and brought us closer together.
With the swing of each hammer, twist of each screw, scrape of the stucco, step up a ladder and saw of the wood, families come closer not only to having new homes but closer with the volunteers. The efforts of the individuals all aim to help those in need. Life-long friendships are created and maintained through these encounters. All it takes is the willingness to sign a piece of paper and answer a few questions to take part in an excursion of the sort. This experience will last longer than any Caribbean Cruise tan line.
photo by benswing on Flickr