Habitat for Humanity Spends Spring Break 2017 in Mississippi

Sophia Brana '17 Reflects on How Habitat Shaped her Marist Experience

Spring break provides a much-needed time away from school, work, and internships, but it is not always the crazy week of beach parties that pop culture depicts it as. For some students, like the Marist chapter of Habitat for Humanity, spring break is spent not relaxing, but building.

Marist College Habitat for HumanityEvery spring break, a group of about 25 Marist students and chaperones take part in Habitat for Humanity International's Collegiate Challenge, an initiative that gives students an opportunity to spend spring break building houses for the organization, rather than going on a more traditional spring break vacation.

Having been part of Marist Habitat since my sophomore year, I have been on three Collegiate Challenges, once as a general member, and twice as a board member. My first spring break with Habitat was spent in Florida, followed by Alabama and Mississippi. Each year, the trip is more rewarding. This spring break, we went to Lucedale and Hattiesburg, MS where entire neighborhoods had recently been destroyed by tornadoes. Working on houses that had been damaged was an eye-opening experience, especially because most of us are from the Northeast where tornadoes are hardly a concern.

Despite never having been on a typical spring break vacation, I have never felt like I've been missing out by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Each year, I spend spring break making new friends, contributing to something bigger than myself, and learning new skills. The experiences I've had with Habitat are worth so much more than a week of relaxing or parties.

Many schools around the country participate in the Collegiate Challenge each year, although the unique thing about Marist is the size of the group. With around 25 people, the Marist Collegiate Challenge group is one of the largest. This sometimes limits the options for places we can volunteer, as not every town is prepared to accommodate a group of Marist's size, although the options we do have are all wonderful. The large size of the group also allows us to bond with many new people and we are able to accomplish more work on our home site.

One of the best parts of the week is meeting the families who live in the homes we are building or repairing. They are always so grateful and often, they work with us. In Mississippi this year, one of the construction supervisors from Hattiesburg took us to her own neighborhood where the tornadoes touched down with no warning. There were pieces of roofs and furniture scattered around the streets and in trees, every house had some type of visible damage, and some houses were gone completely, except for the foundation.

Marist College Habitat for HumanitySeeing the tornado damage was the moment that stands out from past Collegiate Challenges as it made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to be going to college, volunteering with Habitat, and having a home to go to.

Thankfully, most of the week has a much more optimistic air surrounding it. During time off from the home site, the whole group chooses activities so we can experience the culture of the region we're in. On this trip, we visited the Gulf Coast and an alligator farm as well as taking an airboat tour and trying some zip lining and hiking.

As this is my last year with Collegiate Challenge, I spent a good part of the week reflecting on how much of who I am is owed to Marist Habitat. It is the club I have been most involved with during my time at Marist, and more than that, being on the board and going on builds made me become more independent and find some direction. Thanks to the Marist Habitat chapter, I realized that I wanted to work for a nonprofit, particularly Habitat for Humanity, and learned about myself, learned about the world, and learned how to put siding on a house.


Written by Sophia Brana '17, a proud member of Marist's Habitat for Humanity student chapter.

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