Twenty-four students and four advisers from Penn State Behrend are participating in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Beaumont, Texas. The group will be helping residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which hit the greater Houston area in August of 2017, causing at least $125 billion in damages and claiming 108 lives. Behrend’s ASB group is being joined by five other Penn State campuses, including Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Scranton, University Park, and York.
By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communication, and 2018 ASB participant
One of the best things about being on the ASB trip is getting to know each person on the 28-member team individually.
After a few days (or hours in a car or on a jobsite), personalities emerge. You learn who is hilarious, who is tougher than nails, who takes charge, who is afraid of dogs, who isn’t going anywhere without lipstick (guilty as charged). You learn their majors and hometowns, what sports they played in high school, if they have siblings, and whether they are a night owl or an early bird (spoiler: none of them appear to love getting up at 5 a.m. like me).
We spend a lot of time together (In the entire time I’ve been here so far, I have had exactly 45 minutes of free time, not counting my early morning hours when I creep downstairs to blog.) We eat every meal together, we work together, we sleep in one room less than two feet from each other (women and men are in different buildings), we play together, and every night at 8 or 8:30 p.m. two of the student trip leaders do a 90-minute “reflections” activity designed to encourage deeper thinking and conversation about the lessons learned that day.
Reflections activities are guided discussions intended to help the students process what they’ve been exposed to and insights they have gained in a way that transcends the trip. Reflections give students a wide view of the immersive-learning experience and how it leads to lifelong personal development.
Students who attend ASB say it is life changing, in ways both large and small. For some, it jumpstarts a life of service. For others, it prompts a change in majors or career or confirms they’re on the right path. Others make friends that last far beyond their college years.
As an adviser, I’m having my own immersive learning experience. (More about that tomorrow).
For now, let me tell you how ruff my team’s day was on Wednesday.
At the 8:30 a.m. orientation, we hit the job roulette jackpot and secured a prime assignment at the Humane Society of Southeast Texas.
The no-kill shelter has been at max capacity since the hurricane as many animals were abandoned or surrendered (then and now) as people try to get their lives and homes back in order.
Our first task of the day was to organize the supply room. With seven of us and an addition three boys from a high school volunteer group who were also there, we made quick work of the room:
After lunch, our task was to “love on the dogs” as our volunteer leader, Miss Pearl, put it. Miss Pearl loves her babies and insisted on personally introducing us to every dog in the shelter. Then, we each picked one to take out of their cages for some exercise – a walk, a game of fetch in the pens, etc. Between the seven of us, I’m sure we walked or played with every dog there (that could be taken out), including a gentle giant of a Great Dane, a Great Pyrenees mix, and lots of young lab, pit, and hound mixes.
After “loving on the dogs” for a couple of hours, Miss Pearl put us to work in the office, separating sheets of newspaper to make cage cleaning easier for the workers. Then we headed back outdoors to transport newly-cleaned supplies (cages, plastic tubs, food dishes, etc.) to the storage shed.
At 3:30 p.m., we headed back to the church for cleanup as we had a 5:30 reservation for the whole crew at a local Texas barbecue grill. (Mmm…brisket.)
Over dinner, we caught up with the other three crews to find out what jobs they worked on that day:
- Chris Fox’s crew continued work on a single mom’s house, clearing clutter to make it (more) liveable for the woman and her disabled son.
- Chris Harben’s crew had the most physically demanding job of the day — removing tile flooring from a flood-damaged home.
- Will Taylor’s crew worked at a home removing walls and insulation that had been damaged in the hurricane.
Today is our last work day. Tomorrow, we are leaving the church at 6 a.m. for an 11 a.m. flight and a 2:30 p.m. arrival in Pittsburgh, followed by a bus ride back home to Erie, where I hear there’s another storm dumping snow on the Great Lakes region.