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