The Austin College Alternative Spring Break (ASB) 2018 trip to Lafayette, Louisiana, is a story about finishing. Thirty Austin College students, along with Ryan Felix, assistant professor of chemistry, and Andrea Restrepo, coordinator of volunteer services, took on not only the three assigned projects in the area, but also two more—because they we able.
Volunteer JoAnn Mathew ’19 said, “My mission going to ASB was to help someone as much I can, finish the tasks, and make a difference in a homeowner’s life. After working at Bonnie’s house for two days, I was ready the next day to finish what we had started.”
The group was divided into small teams that were dispersed between five projects in the area. Students noted that as they worked together, they became proficient in their new construction skills and built new relationships.
“We all learned how to lay the flooring through the site leads, and by trial and error,” said Madison Bolin ’20. “But, one day I stepped back from working and looked across the kitchen and living room, and we were all working on this large area of flooring together as a team. Our routine for working together on this was not verbalized at one time but just happened and was working so smoothly—and that stuck with me.”
The Austin College volunteers gained skills in teamwork, problem-solving, and the use of power tools. They worked together to cook meals and clean up, and they gathered each evening for reflection time. They left Austin College on Sunday, March 11, and worked side by side for the next five days.
“It was a great trip,” Restrepo said. “It was definitely exhausting … I’d say they slept well. And, there were many who would work all day, shower, and start studying because they were coming back to papers due or quizzes.” The students stayed at the First Presbyterian Church of Lafayette during the week and enjoyed an authentic gumbo meal prepared by the church’s hospitality team on Wednesday.
More than 4,400 homes were damaged or destroyed in the 2016 flooding near Lafayette, and many of the affected areas were not covered by insurance. The ASB service projects, which were coordinated through Presbyterian Disaster Relief and Rebuild Together Acadiana, included two demolition sites, two ramp sites, and a mobile home renovation.
The mobile home had mold and damage that prevented the homeowner’s wife from safely living there because of ongoing health issues. The team worked to paint, replace flooring and baseboards, and prepare the home for her return.
“At the end of the repair, Don (the homeowner) talked to all of us and gave thanks and told us how excited he was to bring his wife back home,” Madison said. “It’s not the thanks at the end, it’s the joy of when he was sharing with us how he was going to furnish the home and get it all ready, then move his wife in. He wanted it perfect for her and that’s what he feels he has, a home for her again.”
Austin College’s Alternative Spring Break program, now in its 26th year, was endowed by a gift from First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth in 2017. In recent years, flood and tornado devastation in Texas and nearby states has created numerous needs for relief work. The Service Station, led by a student board of 15 to 20 members, is an outreach of the Religious Life Program at Austin College.
Including Alternative Spring Break, Austin College students volunteer an estimated 16,000 hours each year, recorded and often coordinated by the Service Station. The board connects willing volunteers with hundreds of regional service opportunities, tutoring for area school-age children, monthly on-campus educational programming for school-age children, and an annual fundraiser for TOSTAN, a grass-roots community education effort based in Senegal, Africa. A number of campus-wide volunteer programs are offered throughout the year, as well as individual projects and group work completed by many student organizations on campus, most of which include service elements in their charters.