All Together Now
For five years running now, Washington College’s Habitat for Humanity crew has traveled to Columbus, Ga., each spring to make somebody’s dream come true. Known as the Alternative Spring Break, the week of sweating, hammering, drywalling, sawing, painting, and learning has built much more than houses. It has cemented friendships across age, social class, race, and gender. It’s created a family.
So when they learned that Georgia, for a variety of logistical reasons, wouldn’t be able to accommodate them in 2013, the College’s H4H crew had to step back and do a little soul searching. “It has been a challenge,” says Maria Hynson, the club’s staff advisor. “But it was good in that it gave us a chance to define what our priorities are.” Knowing they would be dealing with an entirely new venue, new people, new logistics, and new issues, the group’s members needed to lay out what they believed to be the absolute core criteria in searching for another site for the alternative spring break. And in doing so, they defined who they are.
“Staying together: That was most important,” says Billie Ricketts ’13, a biology major and president of the College’s Habitat for Humanity Club. “Staying together working on a brand new home, that was our biggest priority. Never separate us. We’re a team.”
That team has had a momentous 2012. Its 30-plus members have worked all year—even on summer weekends—to help various local organizations such as St. Martin’s House in Ridgely (a transitional shelter for women and young children) and the Humane Society of Kent County. The students spent fall break working on projects in Onancock, Va., and every month there’s at least one fundraising activity, one work project, and one meeting.
But the high point clearly was beating dozens of other colleges and universities in the Barnes & Noble “Build a Future” contest, a battle waged on Facebook pages across the country that ended up pitting Washington College (1,450 students) against Penn State (44,000 students). The contest results depended on likes, comments, posts and re-posts—in short, a wave of community support for H4H.
“We’ve been trying to do things strategically to really get our name out there in a positive light, the college’s name and the club’s name,” Hynson says. “The Facebook contest was really a vindication of that: Wow, people really are listening. It’s a very empowering feeling.”
Hynson knows the coming year will be challenging, not only because of the new Alternative Spring Break venue, but also because a big chunk of the club’s leadership will be graduating. “Cultivating that next group is going to be really key, because there are always things we haven’t thought of or haven’t been able to do. We have come a long way in a very short period of time, and it’s amazing to see how we’ve grown.”
That kind of hope can carry people a long way. In the end, the group chose a site in Davidson, N.C., to focus its efforts during spring break in 2013. They don’t know yet how it will go—whether they’ll get a construction boss who’s patient, where they will sleep, whose home they will be building. But it’s a hallmark of this group’s resounding successes this year that they’re confident enough to take the future, with all of its inherent uncertainty, in stride.
“We’ll learn, no matter where we are,” Ricketts says. “Regardless of where we are or what we do, we’re always going to be tight, we’re always going to have a good time, and in the end we’re going to help somebody, and that’s our ultimate goal.”