When I accidentally clicked “Affordable Housing” as my winter break choice, I was just anxious. I saw that I clicked it just in time and found out who my site leaders were & became elated. Through all the pre meetings to the break departing, I really learned a lot about Habitat for Humanity and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Gulfport, Mississippi. The fact that this Hurricane that happened about 10 years ago was still impacting that community today is astounding. They are still rebuilding and reconstructing the way the houses are built down there for future natural disasters (up to 12 feet off the ground).
On the way down to Mississippi, we made a stop in Alabama to explore University of Alabama & Selma, Alabama. University of Alabama was absolutely gorgeous and was the biggest University I have ever seen in person. The Greek community also looked like mansions and “gated community” like. After stopping at the football field lastly, we made our way to Selma to explore Martin Luther King’s memorials. This was such a humbling and eye opening experience as what you would see on TV is literally right infront of you.
Once we made it to our housing in Gulfport, we realized just how blessed we were on this break. Not only did I get placed so unkowningly into a group of hilarious and loving people, but we were put in a church with a pastor who cared for us like his own. Grady (the pastor) was one of the most interesting and humbling people ever. He not only gave us beds, a handmade quilt, washer and dryers, plenty of bathrooms/showers, a remade kitchen and dining area, TV area; but he constantly fed us with food he bought or made our food for us.
Since our actual service with Habitat for Humanity was an hour away in Pasagoula, Mississippi, we always got to drive by the beach and embrace its beauty at 7 in the morning. Once at service, we saw a couple houses almost built and their future plans of making this a 13 house community. The man introduced us with their southern accents and hospitality by making sure we got to do everything we wanted to do that week. They told us about every story regarding working for HFH to personal to hurricane stories. They even brought us crawfish to try on Wednesday (which is an experience in itself).
Everyday we got to work with power guns, caulking guns, sawing, painting, and even went on a roof. I thoroughly enjoyed doing these challenging tasks because I got to see just how much work goes into building a house. We had a day off as their CEO just passed away from cancer where we volunteered for a day at this house that needed help cleaning up. This previous playboy bunny woman and her husband told us thousands of their crazy stories from when they were younger and we cleaned out this room that she wanted to make into his den. They downgraded into this house and had too much stuff with not a lot of room so we helped make it more livable for them. We also heard all of the stories of people breaking into their house down there and stealing all of their pictures/valuables, and the stories of being a model/actress.
On our way back to CMU, we made a quick stop in New Orleans, Louisiana where we got to see all the adventurous and interesting people throughout the busy streets a week before Mardi Gras. This time around, it was the middle of the day so I got to see just how lively that place gets and let me just say, wow. It was so cool to hear all the different bands, see the artists, and watch a talent performance. We also enjoyed benign’s and enjoyed the beautiful weather one last time before driving through the snowstorm.
This became hands down my favorite Alternative Break because of the people. I really enjoyed just working with these men/women and americorps volunteers as it was very eye opening. They truly cared about instilling their wisdom and advice into us whether it was regarding building a house, surviving a storm, or just eating a crawfish. They made this experience so rewarding and life changing. Grady made our housing arrangements comfortable and like a home to be a comfortable environment. My group were the most understanding, careless, and caring people you could meet. I will never forget this experience and the interactions of this week.