by Cora Markowitz
Spring Break conjures up images of sun-drenched beaches, rowdy pool parties and James Franco drawling, “Sprang break forever.” But 12 Kenyon students chose to spend their time a little differently: on an Alternative Spring Break trip.
Instead of working on their tans, students spent a week working on various projects with Habitat for Humanity in the remote mountain community of Pendleton County, W. Va. Assistant Director of New Student Orientation and Community Programs Lacey Filkins organized the trip and hopes it will be the first of many.
“This was the first campus-sponsored community service trip over break, and we’re already working on planning alternative Fall Break,” Filkins said.
The students who signed on looked forward to a chance to use their time off from school to do something meaningful.
“I don’t need two weeks hanging around my house — I might as well spend one week doing something productive and helpful, as well as getting to know a lot of Kenyon students at the same time,” Meaghan Brennan ’15 said.
The students approached their work eagerly and ready to help out.
“They were not afraid to jump in and get their hands dirty,” Filkins said.
They settled into a busy work schedule, dividing their labor to complete various tasks for Habitat.
“We did kind of a different thing every day because we were a smaller group, so they just had us at whatever site they needed us,” Evie Kennedy ’17 said.
According to Derek Foret ’17, on most days the group “woke up around 7 a.m., had breakfast, cleaned up the area where we were staying and then we would go out to varying sites.”
Foret found working on transforming an old closet into a tool closet for Habitat workers most fulfilling. In the closet, the group put in more shelves, hooks and organized tools within the shed.
“Since we didn’t have as much family interaction as a lot of people do with Habitat, I liked just seeing the progress we had from what the supply closet was, and how the work we put into it had tangible results,” Foret said. “But it’s also knowing not only that we built this, but it would be used for a long time by so many different volunteers and Americorps workers to help a bunch of people.”
In more typical Habitat work, some members of the Kenyon group re-shingled a roof for an elderly man named Mr. Buzzard.
“[Buzzard] was deaf, but he was very lively and wanted to get to know us. He was also very eccentric and had this huge trailer in the back filled with hats he collected. He had 7,000 baseball caps in his trailer in the back, and it was bizarre … it was just great meeting him,” Elena Schatell ’15 said.
In their free time, the students kept themselves entertained.
“We didn’t have Internet; there was no Wifi, no Verizon service … so in our downtime we would play cards, basketball … it was just a lot of hanging out and talking,” Schatell said.
The Kenyon students also grew close with a school group staying at the same site, four students from Immaculata University.
“Me, the Immaculata people, and the head of the Habitat area, Mark, we were initiated into ‘the nug life,’ which was, essentially, all the Immaculata people bought chicken nuggets and we would eat chicken nuggets with mayonnaise and sriracha at night … so that was a lot of fun,” Foret said.
The Kenyon group returned from their trip so pleased with it that they all plan on doing future alternative break trips.
“Everyone had a really good time and it went well so we’re hoping the program will grow quite a bit and it’ll be an annual thing,” Filkins said.
Brennan would encourage others to do it in the future.
“I think everyone thinks they don’t want to do it because it sounds like work over break, but it felt like a complete break, in a lot of ways, from the Kenyon bubble, where all you’re thinking about all the time is studying and homework,” Brennan said. “To be able to think about the other things out there in the world and do other things that felt important but also felt invigorating was a great experience.”