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 :)

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