You will often hear college students saying they spent their spring break in Cancun or Florida, but for me, I spent my Spring Break in Missouri. Sure at first it doesn’t sound very exciting, but for me it was a life changing experience. I didn’t know what to expect from any of this. While in Boston waiting for our flight to depart it was snowing just overall depressing. I just wanted to get to Dallas. Once in Dallas it was raining, we even had to wait a good two hours because of maintenance problems. It was a long day of travelling but when we finally got to Joplin it was beautiful and sunny. I saw it as a sign of hope.
After a long day of traveling and we were finally in Joplin we went out to eat at Pizza Hut. On our way in a man sitting down enjoying his meal noticed our large group of 26 people and asked where we were from and we told him Massachusetts. After finishing our food we were told that he paid $100 of our meal. Then after that the manager came outside to personally thank us for what we were doing and he told us that he lost six of his friends and four of his employees. This was just the first night in Joplin and these two people showed me how much they truly appreciate people like us helping restore Joplin.
The next day, it was a Sunday, was supposed to be our first day on the worksite. It was raining that morning so instead we drove around Joplin to see the tornado damage. I heard about the tornado, I saw pictures, I even saw a video of the destruction, but it didn’t hit me until I saw it for myself. These neighborhoods were neighborhoods just like mine and their homes were taken away from them in just a matter of minutes. After all of this they kept hope and stayed strong, Joplin Strong. Even on Extreme Makeover Home Edition, a young child said, “Material things don’t matter, family is what matters” or something like that. Just knowing that made me appreciate everything I had so much more. It wasn’t until we reached the high school, that I almost broke down, and I don’t cry. When I saw the sign read “Hope High School” I knew that even though the schools were taken away from these kids they still had hope. Schools were opened not too long after the tornado and these kids were still able to get an education. After taking all of this in Molly came up to me asking me for an interview. I honestly didn’t know what to say it was so much to take in at once so I sounded like an idiot on camera. After that interview I knew I had to take those words and put them into actions. I wasn’t in Missouri on a vacation I was there to help restore Joplin, I was there to make a difference.
The house to my surprise was bigger than I thought it would be. The only problem was that we had to share two bathrooms between 26 people, 22 of them being girls. Growing up with one bathroom and two sisters I knew what I was in for, just times 11 (that’s the math in me). As soon as we got there people started claiming beds, but I didn’t mind where I slept so I ended up taking the floor. It was cool though, because of the bond that Jorge and I made we ended up switching off every night between the top bunk and the floor. Living in such a small house with 26 people we got really close really fast. I learned everyone’s name by the first night and by the end of the trip I got to know everyone. By the end of the trip it was safe to call ourselves a family. Because of this new family I truly grew as a person. I definitely came out of my shell and came out of my comfort zone. I am absolutely terrified of heights and what did I end up doing, I zip-lined and jumped a 100 foot free-fall. That same day even though I have stage freight I rode a toy horse in front of hundreds of people and earned myself a medal. By the end of the show a man said to me, “Hey son, I paid my money’s worth to watch you win that horse race!” It made my night.
We did a lot of work on Rhonda’s house; we cleaned up, weeded, chipped paint, painted washed the house, sanded, caulked, replaced some pieces of wood, and made a flower garden. I even got to use a nail gun! After four days, we were able to do so much even though we were powered by a strict diet of cereal for breakfast, and pb &j sandwiches for lunch. When it was our last day, I will never forget the look on Rhonda’s face after we finished. We all even got a hug from her, after we gave her a picture to remember us. She even just recently sent Angel a message saying, “I believe you are in my front yard now!!! I love each of you for your time, care and giving of your time to help us here in Joplin. God Bless each of you. Each of you are truly amazing." We had such a big impact on her and knowing that I made a difference in her life changed my life forever.
It was a life-changing experience. I made new friends, a sonic buddy, and overall a new family. Now I am that guy that always holds the door for people behind me. I can honestly say I didn’t know what to expect before going on the trip but now I can say that I wish I could relive every moment of it.