Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One week, 29 new friends, and a lifetime of memories

I never thought that I would be excited to wake up at 6AM. I never thought I would enjoy bagging oyster shells. I never thought that after one week I would have 29 people in my life that I could genuinely call friends. I never thought I would have the privilege of meeting so many inspirational people in Biloxi, Mississippi- but I thought wrong. I'm not exactly sure what my expectations were going into ASB, but I am certain that I was underestimating the power of this experience. My eyes were opened and I learned more about myself, my trip mates, and the people of Mississippi than I ever thought possible. It would take days to recount every positive experience I had on ASB, so here are two of the most impactful moments for me:

On our fourth day at Camp Wilkes a group of ASBers were playing outside after a day of volunteering. It sounds childish even saying it- playing outside- but that's all we were doing. I stopped for a moment to just look around. I saw one game of soccer, another game of frisbee and a game of volleyball and was overcome with a sense of happiness. I was happy for two reasons. First, seeing everyone together playing like we were in elementary school, was amazing. We were a group of college students who were practically strangers less than a week ago and were now playing games, laughing, and being nothing but ourselves. It was unbelievable to see how the common bond of service could bring such a diverse group together and make us mix so seamlessly. The second reason I was happy was simply because I had taken that moment to look at what was around me. It was not until that moment that I realized how much I miss on a daily basis because I am in such a hurry. I cannot remember the last time I stopped for even 10 seconds to really look at what was around me. It sounds so simple, but that moment of stopping and observing my surroundings helped me see the "big picture" that the trip leaders always talk about. I have let myself fall into my own world far too often since coming to college, and I frequently forget that my problems are minuscule compared to what is going on in the rest of the world. And not only that, but while those big problems cannot be fixed overnight, if a group of 30 fairly inexperienced college students can help, imagine what is possible if the rest of the world pitched in every now and then. If everyone took just one minute to forget about their problems, look around, and realize how lucky they are, we could really make a difference. I laugh now thinking that watching a pick-up soccer game could make me realize all of this, but I guess the best "a-ha moments" catch you by surprise.

My second inspirational moment came while leaving Deer Island on Friday after a relatively unsuccessful morning of work. We were sent there to help with shore restoration and setting up barriers to prevent further beach erosion but the water ended up being too rough to get much accomplished. On the boat ride back to shore I was feeling pretty discouraged because it was hard to see an area that needed a lot of help but having to stop because of factors out of our control. While I was feeling disheartened and we were all joking about being stuck on that island longer than expected, it hit me that this is what Marty and the other people who work on this project have to deal with every day. I cannot imagine his frustration when he only has volunteers for the month of March and the weather takes away those extra precious hours of manpower. These people have devoted their lives to such a wonderful cause, and to have so little control over when they can work must be unbelievably difficult. However, realizing these circumstances only made me admire Marty and his team more. They are so passionate about the work that they are doing that not even the unpredictable nature of the job caused them to waiver. I hope to one day find something that I am equally as passionate about.

Like I said, it would take days and days to explain every influential moment of this trip. Lucky doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about this experience, so all I can say is thank you. Thank you to the trip leaders for allowing me to be a part of this amazing experience. Thank you to the chaperones for teaching me so much. Thank you to the people of Mississippi for opening my eyes to a new culture and essentially a new world. And finally, thank you to the other participants of ASB. I have said to multiple people that I expected to help people and feel good about the work we were doing but I never expected to have so much fun, and I owe that all to our amazing group.  You all made this trip one of the best experiences of my life and I will now always think of you as family. I love everyone involved with ASB. Thank you for a beautiful week in Biloxi and for helping me make memories that I will keep with me forever.

Molly Buckley
Class of 2015

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Dont cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

March 25, 2013 (2 days after the trip)

     It's easy to say that this spring break was one of the greatest experiences of my life. ASB encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and create changes to help other people down in Biloxi, Mississippi. It's amazing what a small act of kindness can do to change someones life and turn a destroyed community into something beautiful. I met amazing volunteers, restored the environment, and bonded with 29 people who I now consider my best friends. Alternative Spring Break brought me to a journey that I will never forget.
     At first, we thought that we would be cleaning and restoring beaches that were harshly affected by the BP Oil Spill back in 2010. Fortunately, the community took care of most of the problem and it never had to be dealt with. Most of our projects were mainly the effects from Hurricane Katrina. Keep in mind that Katrina hit Biloxi 8 years ago. Even though the trip wasn't what we expected, anything that we could do to help the community will still be such an amazing experience.
     We completed numerous projects like cleaning Camp Wilkes, bagging oyster shells, restoring Deer Island, renewing a priest's home and gardening off the coast of Biloxi Beach. Projects that seem so small do make a huge difference for the ones in need of help. We talked to local volunteers that spoke to us about life changing stories. Martha, a sweet woman involved in the Agriculture for Humanity not only taught us the value of community service, but also taught us about the value of life. She had started a campaign called "Beauty Along the Beaches", where she created gardens along the coast to add a little happiness to the community. We were inspired by all the carvings of the trees that were killed by Hurricane Katrina. A local artist created them into different animals, and they all looked amazing. Martha added her gardens as a way inspiring locals and tourists that with a little help and determination, we can bring back the joy and beauty that took place before Katrina destroyed it. Martha's gave amazing advice that life is too short to waste and that one little act of kindness can create a chain reaction for so many others. The ones that are encouraged to make the change are the ones who are the most beautiful.
     Tall Steve is one of the volunteers involved with running Camp Wilkes. He told amazing stories about the giant trees the were affected severely by Katrina. Some of the trees were killed, others are still alive and remain legendary. Locals have struggled to make sure that these trees survived. For those that didn't, they were turned into carvings that currently stand along the beaches. Another local volunteer, Marty, made a goal of creating 8,000 bags of oyster shells to restore Deer Island. This island is found off the coast of Biloxi Beach, and needed to be restored after the erosion effected by Hurricane Katrina and Camille. Our teams goal was to make at least 750 bags of oyster shells; we almost made 1000 bags, which is an 1/8 of what they need to completely build a wall around Deer Island. We could easily tell that Marty and his team were impressed our hard work, and even the cuts and scratches on our legs to top it off.
     And now I can finally tell people that we have been stranded on an island. Maybe not literally, but we got a clear view of what the islands are really like due to most of the erosion. I could see all of the dead trees and their roots standing above the water, with little or no land to attach to. volunteers are taking time out of their way to create a wall along the island, so that the sand could be washed back in and stay there for any remaining hurricanes. It kills me knowing that they have to do the work themselves once all the college volunteers leave the area. We only had to experience this project once, but Marty and his small team have to do this everyday. Overall, Marty really show us that we all should all make an act of kindness out of love, not the money. His hard work with later recreate a better island that stood 8 years ago before Katrina. 
     We also cleaned and demolished a house that was once owned by a priest from a local Methodist Church. The local construction workers decided to create a better home for another priest who planned on moving in early June. Wes, one for workers in charge, told us how there are not many students like us who are willing to give up their spring breaks to help an unfamliar community. He mentioned that the we need more people like us to bring love and joy to the world. Of course, relieve stress and demolishing furniture with a crow bar was my favorite part!
     Of course the trip was not just all work and no play. What a better way to spend our trip in Mississippi then to go to a Gator Ranch! To see the alligators in person was probably the coolest experience. The air boat ride was wet and cold but completely worth it. We even got to hold a baby alligator, which was the cutest reptile in the world! Biloxi the Alligator even got to see her relatives. We could tell it was one of the greatest moments of her life. 
     The week even contained some pleasant surprises. What was thought to be a night of showers and bed time ended up being a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana! The seniors got to see the house they worked with and built with ASB 2 years ago as part of Habitat for Humanity. The emotions they felt that day made me want to experience that same feeling the next 3 years of my college career before I graduate. The house the started from nothing came out so beautiful. We then got the chance to travel through the beautiful city.
     As we all know, New Orleans was the city most affected by Hurricane Katrina, as it flooded the community and killed several people. Touring the city 8 years later was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. We traveled over the 25-mile bridge over the water to get to New Orleans. You could easily tell what buildings were new, and what still needed reconstruction. Even the graves and stone coffins were above ground due to the erosion of the cemeteries. Of course, the dinner and seafood was amazing and delicious! The night couldn't have been more perfect. We can't thank the trip leaders and chaperones enough for this amazing surprise road trip.
     And of course, spending my spring break with my favorite people was my favorite part of the trip. The trip leaders couldn't have put together a more perfect group of people. Each member has their own distinct personality, yet we all share a perfect bond. Working together and sharing one small cabin really brought us together as a family. The people I didn't know from day one are now all my best friends. We shared stories and personal topics that I normally would share with anyone else. Whether we were sleeping, eating, or working hard, we were always together 24/7. I'm pretty sure I hugged every ASBuddy that I saw around campus today. The memories and the love that we share are endless. I feel so empty and alone not being surrounded by my ASB Framily. It may sound dramatic, but it's completely true.
    Applying to ASB as a freshman was the best decision I ever made, and hopefully I can experience this moment the next 3 years of my life. Even though we never did projects involved with the Oil Spill, we still came together to help those in desperate need from a natural disaster. We as New Englanders never think much about the effects of Hurricane Katrina, yet in the south, it is completely part of their culture. I've learned that one little action to cause a chain reaction. Any helpful action that one can make can create a huge difference. I've helped make a difference, and went on an incredible trip with an amazing group of people. Be involved as early as possible, because I'm so far having the greatest college experience of my life. ASB 2013 with be a trip I honestly will never forget. I love you guys, and thank you Alternative Spring Break for changing my life.

Katie Durst
Class of 2016

My ASB Framily :)

Jenna Papotto

I've been home for two days and I don't think I've gone 20 minutes without talking about my trip to Biloxi. I feel extremely bad for my friends and family because it is all I talk about. In only a short week I experienced one of the best times of my life. I will be corny and admit that it changed my life. I now look at everything around me in a different way because  of the trip. The people I met and the experiences I had changed my perspective on life. I never expected that the trip to Mississippi would change me as much as it did. I'm proud of myself and the 29 other people who joined me on the wonderful trip to Biloxi.

         So here's some of the day to day activities I recorded in my journal throughout the trip:

Day 1: The first day after arrival we were assigned to work with Horticulture for Humanity. My first thoughts after finding out what we were doing for the day were: What about the oil spill? Yes, we came down south expecting to help with an oil spill that corrupted the gulf. Little did we know that the south was STILL suffering from Katrina and they needed our help in other places. I was completely content with helping any cause as long as someone or something was getting helped. We worked in the Katrina Sculpture Garden right on the coastline of Biloxi. This was one of the highlights of my trip, the moment we met Martha. Martha taught us about the gardens, Katrina, and about life. The gardens were not just there to look nice, but to restore faith in the people of the south. They were the color when everything around them seemed to be dark. We weeded, trimmed, and cut down bushes to clean up the entire garden. The best part of the garden was the sculptures made from damaged trees from Katrina. They took something damaged and made it beautiful. It's clear that these gardens mean a lot to the people of the south because they thanked us with a honk as they walked by. The gardens were a reminder to the people of Biloxi that that they will recover and their beautiful home will be restored once again.

Day 2: I got in synch with my inner construction worker and worked on a pastors house. In transition for the new pastor to move in, a group of volunteers and a sweet man named Wes worked on completely renovating the four bedroom home next to the church. When we arrived, a lot of the demo was already done. We were assigned to help take out window silts, remove counter tops, take out paneling, and cleaning up the yard. Although they all seem like very little things, the little things add up. That is the biggest lesson I took away from our day of work. Yes we may of just raked leaves and cleaned up inside, but if we didn't help that's an extra day of work they would have had to do. My favorite part of the day was working in the kitchen with Wes. He would begin to take something out or nail something in on his own, and then he would stop himself so I could help. He knew we were eager to help and he was happy to show us. I think he helped us as much as we helped him.

Day 3: Our third day we headed out toward the ice  cold shore line about an hour from camp. Alright, ice cold is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was cold out. We warmed right up the second we started working. This day was such an eye opening day for my. It defiantly consisted of the most physical labor. Our third day we met the kindest and most hard working man in Mississippi, Marty. Marty worked for the Department of Marine Resources and was working on a project solo. Besides the volunteers he received during spring break he was basically a one man team. This just goes to show that one person can really make a huge difference. Marty's project worked on restoring the shore line and preventing erosion along Deer island. The oyster shells we bagged will be nailed to the sea floor and used as a barrier and for fish to use as shelter. In just a few days the volunteers were able to bag over 1000 bags of oysters. This made a huge dent in his progress and it was clear that he appreciated the help. He left us each with a hug and a huge thank you.

 It's people like Marty, Martha, and Wes that truly make the hard work worth it. They give hope for future generations. I learned from each of them and the many people I met through out the week that everyone has a story they want to tell. They all were more than happy to share the personal details of their lives to show us why they work so hard and do the things they do. These people have gone through so much yet we see them stand strong years later because they never gave up. The "little things" they do to help out Mississippi and the gulf really do add up. Raking leaves may seem like an annoying choir like your parents ask you to do, but if you dont't do it who will. From holding open a door to sweeping a floor, these little service add up to something much bigger. Service should be a part of your everyday life and it will sure be a part of mine. This trip taught me so much I can't fit it all into one blog. I made 29 new friends and plenty of new friends down in Mississippi. I wouldn't have wanted to spend my spring break any other way. My experience in Biloxi will be one that I will carry with me throughout my life. I hope to return there one day and once again extend a helping hand. I am so thankful I was given this wonderful experience.

Jenna Papotto
Class of 2014

"Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - H. Thurman

     There's nothing quite like the rose-colored glasses you look at life through once you return from Alternative Spring Break. I'm an RA in Towers, and last night (Sunday) I was on duty just after I walked into my room at school and dropped my backpack and suitcase and kicked off my rain boots. I stayed up late unpacking and reading my motivational mailboxes, and then was woken up at 6 am to cover a couple unexpected emergency hours at the Security Desk. Before ASB, that rude awakening was probably something that would have groaned and whined about, but as I sat at the desk from 6 to 8 am, I thought about waking up around that time with my 29 ASB friends (probably to the sound of Carolyn catapulting herself off of the top bunk). Mostly, though, I thought about how lucky I am to have my job, to have a place to live that I can call my own, and my shot at a great education.
     ASB never fails to quiet my mind and to force me out of myself- my worries, stresses, insecurities- and think purely of what I can do to make life better for another person, family, or community. I never feel so much clarity and sense of purpose as when I'm on ASB. When we were heading to New Orleans after visiting the house on Daisy Street in Covington, Louisiana, Molly turned to Carolyn and I and explained that she felt like she was exactly where she was supposed to be in that moment. I was so happy for her, and I knew the feeling; last year, during my first ASB in Joplin, Missouri, I felt as if someone was creating all of the perfect signs to ensure that I was exactly where I was meant to be. The sun coming out of the clouds at Joplin High was my perfect I-belong-here-moment, and whenever I look at the tattoo I got on that trip, I am reminded of the experience that made me realize my place in the world. I, like Molly, have been forever changed from my first ASB experience, and, although it's taken a full year to completely realize it, my ASB experience has made me decide to change the direction of my life. Being a trip leader in Biloxi this year was easily the best thing I've ever done, and I've never enjoyed the feeling of being stressed out so much in my entire life. This work makes me come alive. It allows me to dedicate my life to something truly important, something good. I can't say thank you enough to Molly, Carolyn, Angel, Kendra, Emily, and Lorretta for guiding me and molding me into the person I'm meant to be. I'm glad to say that (after an advising appointment with Emily, of course!) I will be parting ways with my Elementary Education major and becoming a full sociology major. It's scary, because I've wanted to be a teacher for four years now, but fear is no good reason not to follow my dream. I want to submerge myself in this good work for the rest of my life- I want to make a career out of service. I've just got to follow my passion and hold on for the best :)
Recruitment and Retention Trip Leader

Melissa Skerry-ASB 2013 experience of a lifetime

*originally written on trip*

Marty showed everyone the trueness of loving what you do, and not sticking to something just for money. He taught us all the importance of ecorestoration, and we even helped him build up a shoreline for a beach in need-this required us to bag bags upon bags (that were made of chicken wire) of oyster shells, which he would use as safe and natural way to rebuild what the hurricanes had eroded on beaches around Deer Island. At the close of the day with him, he said he was blown away by our enthusiasm as a group, and gave each and everyone of us a warm hug, and a thank you that meant the world. Had we not helped him that day, his work would of been pushed back till about October! Seeing how all that help really made a difference for this kind hard working man, made us all feel amazing at the end of the day.

When we all thought we were heading home to shower, we fell asleep with the sweet dreams of showers and naps-little did we know that our trip leaders had something up their sleeves. We woke up to find that we were all still in the van, and that we had just passed the state line of Mississippi, into Louisiana. Confused at first, we all didn't know what to expect-we were told nothing, so we just sat tight in our seats, and waited till we approached our destination. We were all delightfully pleased to see that the leaders had taken us to the habitat for humanity development where tons of houses built by volunteers lined the streets. One house in particular stood out for the seniors on this special surprise trip to New Orleans-and it was a finished home, that they had started to builed 2 years prior. Seeing the passion and emotion come over their faces, to see that they had been apart of something that changed a life, was breath taking. We were all teary eyed, and hugging the seniors who were also crying out of joy and sadness, that this was the last trip that they would be able to serve others. After we all hugged, and were told stories of that ASB 2011 trip, the leaders jumped in  and said "Get in the vans, we are going to New Orleans!" the day had been amazing already, but to be surprised again with that? now that was something else. We experienced the emotion and joy of volunteering all day, then got to enjoy and learn a little about New Orleans-and enjoy a cultural treat, of Jambalaya and other food of New Orleans.

A lot happened on this trip, from being 'stranded" on an island, to holding on as I explored the everglades, looking for Alligators. Everything on this trip was a learning experience, and something that I will hold dear to me for the rest of my life. My heart will always have an entire section devoted to my ASB 2013 family. Before the trip, I had no real friends at FSU and even considered transferring-but after spending a year fundraising, and having meals with these wonderful people, I am happy to say that I have made 29 wonderful friends who I will keep with me to infinity and beyond. I reccommend that everyone apply for this opportunity of a lifetime-helping to make a difference, learning new things, and making new friends along the way-how can you say no to that?!

-Melissa Skerry
class of 2014

Brandon Martinez

*This blog was originally written on the trip* 

Today our project was really interesting and definitely one where everyone can see the potential impacts that the work will have on the ecosystem. We gathered oyster shells and put them in this metal netting material. The bags of oysters will be used to create a natural shoreline to prevent beach erosion. This project will also help the oyster population grow and gives them new homes. Unfortunately I was unable to do any of the work on this project because of my seafood allergy but it was incredible to see the group work so hard and get so much done in a little amount of time. The project manager, Marty Jones, was very appreciative of our work and I think everyone could see how much us being there meant to him.

The next adventure we had today was going into Louisiana! We went there to visit a site that ASB worked on two years ago when they were building houses in neighborhoods destroyed by hurricane Katrina. Wen we got to the houses some of our group members who had been in Louisiana got to see the houses that they started become complete. This was an emotional moment for me because it was really great to see that our most experienced members see their project finish and they gave someone a place to build memories and live a normal life that we take for granted. I'm very proud that I know these older members and I'm grateful that they're here to guide me through this trip and hopefully in the rest of my time here at FSU.

After the tears and emotions we went to New Orleans! It was a spur of the moment trip our leaders had decided to take which made it even more exciting to go. As we drove into New Orleans, Molly had pointed out that at one point this whole city was under water and to look at how they've rebuilt and restored normalcy. When we got into the city there was a buzz in the air and a lot of energy. Shops were open, people were walking around with friends and family, and there were even street performers. Everything about New Orleans was lively which is incredible because eight years ago they were completely destroyed. 

I'm so happy that we were able to have this day in ASB and everyone was excited not only for ourselves but for the people who have worked so hard to make their community stronger. 

- Brandon 2016

Avarie Cook

*This blog was originally written during the trip*

So today, I woke up kinda late but got ready and everything quickly as usual. It's killer having to wake up so early everyday here and and we never stop so I don't have the chance to be tired. Everyday is amazing though. I have this feeling of content washing over me from doing what I'm doing and being around these people. I'm genuinely falling for this experience emotionally, and it's really scary because I have no idea how I'm going to take having to go back to Massachusetts.
Well, today (Tuesday March 19th) we demolished this minister's home. This church has an temporary minister currently because they had a falling out with the previous one. Now that they have the chance, they're going to redo the whole house. It used to be dressed up in 70s stuff and whatnot, which I guess they were sick of. They're getting a new pastor June 1st, so they have that long to do the whole house. Which I think is pretty neat.
We started off with taking off the window sills and putting away some lumber that was next to the shed in the backyard. Then I swept with Amy for a bit... did some raking... I was pretty much all over the place with this project. I was intrigued by this kid Joey. He was 18 years old and from Biloxi, the only young person that I've met from here so far. So after lunch we all went to the cemetery across the street to see headstones. Other people were asking Joey questions and the journalist in me kicked in and I started to ask a bunch of my own. I asked about his life and somehow we got into this conversation about stereotypes. This is why I was so impacted because coming down here, my grandpa told me that they don't like "colored folk" down here. It surprised me because they were being friendly to me and I was so happy because they weren't treating me weird because if how I looked. This I did not expect at all. Also, this started off because he called me a Yankee. Not Joey, the other guy, possibly 23 or 24. After this we did a reflection activity where we had to answer something along the lines of "because of the stereotypical thing that people think of when talking about volunteering, how do you see what you're doing as valuable?" I gave this schpeel about how I volunteer because you see commercials about people asking for money for causes and how they are all these bad things going on in the world and about how I didn't want to donate money, I want to do something about it. Be active. I want to be hands on and take action and personally make a difference.
The people in my van liked my answer apparently because I got the "Dunkin Donuts scholarship." Before the trip I didn't have the chance to go to many ASBonding activities due to work. Being here is like a giant bonding experience and I'm realizing how magnificent everyone in this group is. Everyone gets along and the dynamics just work well. All of our personalities combine to make this great force and I'm just so proudly attached to the people here. And I'm pretty sure that's not going to go away.

Avarie Cook, Class of 2016 

Molly's Blog from 3/20/13

Two years ago I left Daisey Street Louisiana completely unaware of the major changes Alternative Spring Break 2011 would bring to my life. I went to Daisey Street as an Elementary Education student who enjoyed service but never thought about turning that love into a career. It wasn’t until after ASB 2011 that I started to question what I was meant to do in this life, that I started questioning so many different parts of society, and that I started trying to understand the bigger picture. Suddenly I had so many questions and started wondering how I as one person could start coming up with answers to these questions.
Since my first ASB trip so much has changed. I changed my major to Sociology, I made service a bigger part of my life, and have spent every day since this trip thinking of ASB in some way, whether reflecting on the memories from the trip, planning the next ASB, trying to figure out how to turn my passion for service into a career, or simply trying to find ways to help and understand the many problems in society.
As we pulled up to Daisey Street today, two years later, I had butterflies in my stomach. I couldn’t sit still. I was about to be reunited with a place that I had only worked at for one week yet it changed everything. My heart started to beat faster as we took that right turn. As much as I was having my own moment I knew this was something that ASB 2013 participants could appreciate. I explained to the participants why we had brought them there. While there are days when volunteerism is long, tiring, and tedious, these small acts of giving back can lead to tremendous results. When we left Daisey Street there was only a floor to a house. There were no walls, no roof, hardly a resemblance of a house that would become a home. But today there was a home, there were chairs on the porch, there was a family that lived there. All of those small tasks: hammering nails, leveling out dirt, installing termite shields created this home. The small tasks that can seem pointless are actually just the opposite. They are necessary. I reminded the group that the small acts of volunteerism they have been doing all week: raking leaves, cleaning up a garden, bagging oysters are just the first steps of a journey. While the tasks sometimes seem small, they are necessary. With each small task that gets completed we are helping to make steps towards the bigger picture, even though this bigger picture can be harder to see. But the big picture was right in front of us on Daisey street today.
I feel more fortunate that I can ever explain for having an amazing group of participants, chaperones, and trip leaders who allowed me and other ASB 2011 participants to have this reunion with Daisey Street today. It was a “full circle” moment in my life. How lucky am I to have my first ASB experience combine with my last ASB experience? It was emotional but for all the right reasons. I again cannot explain what this program has done for me and as I explained to the ASB participants not everyone gets the same things out of ASB but as long as they get one thing out of it it has been a success. My hope is that each participant will leave the trip with one thing in their heart and that is the desire to simply help, help in small ways everyday. It is after the trip that the journey to service really begins, if you choose. 

Feeling so grateful,

Molly Goguen
Operations and Education Trip Leader 


Our group just landed in Boston about 24 hours ago, and I can honestly say that participating in this Alternative Spring Break trip has been one of the best decisions of my entire life.  I have left this trip with a renewed sense of what it means to be a human, and, more importantly, what it truly means to be alive.  When we arrived in Mississippi, I was excited to get to work, but I never had any idea the profound effects that the work and this trip as a whole would have on me.

On the first day of work, we were split up into two groups.  My group collaborated with Horticulture for Humanity.  We did work on the Katrina Sculpture Garden, which was right on the coast in Biloxi.  We weeded the garden, cut some overgrown plants, and did other various gardening tasks.  Though it may not sound glamorous or that important to some, it really and truly was.  This day of service is what truly changed everything on the trip for me.  During this day, my group was introduced to two incredibly sweet women named Martha and Kim, who believed that gardens had the power to restore faith in people.  During my group’s work on this garden, so many cars drove and beeped at us as we were working.  Martha informed us that this was the community’s way of saying “thank you” for all of our hard work.  Knowing that the community was deeply moved and so thankful for our work made it all worth it.  To know that we were restoring so much more than just a garden for this community was so moving.  I was floored at how impactful such a small task could have on such a large population of people.  In that small amount of time, we were able to restore something that brought the “beauty beyond the beaches,” and that symbolized hope for not only Biloxi’s current state, but its future, as well.

On the second day of work, we were split up once again, and my group collaborated with a man named Wes.  We worked on a former pastor’s house.  Basically, we prepped the house for the new pastor to move in.  We raked leaves, did demolition on the walls, and did various other projects in the yard and in the house.  Though this also doesn’t sound glamorous or maybe “as important” as other tasks, it really and truly was (once again).  Wes was so thankful for all of the hard work we put in, and, at the end of the day, he shared with us how he believed that because of groups of students like us that there was hope for the future because of our generation.  He shared that because of students like us, he knew that the future was not going to “go to hell in a hand basket.”  It was moving for me especially to see how much our small actions as a group could impact this man.  He really saw something in our group that restored his faith for the future.

On our third day of work, the entire group reconvened and worked with a man named Marty to bag oysters.  Marty works for the Department of Marine Resources, and basically uses the bagged oysters to create oyster beds to prevent erosion along the coast.  Usually, Marty only has a few hands that can help him.  The workday is typically long and grueling, and, since he only has a small group of workers, not much can be done even though all who work expend so much energy.  During the two days that Marty had volunteers from Community Collaborations, there were about 1200 bags of oysters filled.  This was astonishing to Marty.  I believe he said it would’ve taken until October if he did not have the help over those two days.  This really put into perspective for me how important the work we did was.  Having seven or eight times as many workers as he usually had on site was so helpful to him.  He is one of the most hard working men I have ever met, and I am so happy that our group got to work on a project for him that was so near and dear to his heart.  He is truly an inspiration to me.

At the end of the workday with Marty, our group traveled to Louisiana, and we visited the West Tammany Habitat for Humanity site that FSU went to two years ago.  When the group left, just the foundation of the house was pretty much constructed.  I don't believe that any of the members of ASB 2011 had been back to the house since, but it was certainly a sight to see when we arrived.  The house was absolutely beautiful, and the three participants who went on the 2011 trip were very emotional.  To see the hard work come full circle was an absolute pleasure.  This was so moving, and it made me see how service is so cyclical.  Though you may not see the “finished product” when you are done with your service trip, you must have faith that someone else will continue the cycle of kindness.

Though our group experienced so so so much more in Mississippi, I will wrap this blog up now.  Alternative Spring Break—as a whole—was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  I learned so much about service, and its ability to impact those in need.  I never realized how deep of an impact such small actions could have on people.  It is undeniable that Katrina and the oil spill still play huge roles in the Biloxi community, but it is so inspiring that they are able to remain strong, and hopeful for the future because of all the help they have received in the face of these tragedies.

It is truly scary to think about how powerful we are as human beings.  From our everyday interactions with one another to our unbreakable internal spirits, we, as humans, are powerful beyond measure.  We have the ability to change this world for the better—whether it is through the small actions of weeding a sculpture garden or by demolishing a former pastor’s wall.  There is so much more work that awaits all of us in the world, and I hope that everyone takes the opportunity at least once in their lifetime to place themselves in someone else’s shoes, and to lend a helping hand to someone in need.  As Sarah Ban Breathnach once said, "the world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.”

I loved every second of Alternative Spring Break.  It has been such an honor to be a part of such a kind-hearted and inspiring group of individuals who want to make a positive difference in this world.  I will miss Biloxi, and all of the members of its community who have taught me something about myself, and about the world around me.  Though I am separated from it geographically, I will carry Biloxi and all that it has taught me with me in my heart everyday.  I am forever changed because of this experience, and am excited to continue serving in the future.
We came as friends, and we left as a family. You should all be so proud of what we have accomplished together in Biloxi. You all have such kind hearts, and I am inspired by you all.

Nothing but love,
Scott Shea, Class of 2014