Ursinus Students Building Houses in South Carolina

Photo courtesy of Ursinus Communications

Service, Friends, and Community: The 2019 Habitat for Humanity Alternative Spring Break Trip

Sienna Coleman


Many students come to think of Ursinus as their home; not simply because it is where they live for a few years, but because the campus is where they become who they are, learn what they want to do, and meet friends that mean the world to them. This Spring break, Angela Upright ’17, Program Coordinator for the Harold C. Smith Program in Christian Studies, and 25 Ursinus students explored what home means when they drove down to South Carolina to work with Habitat for Humanity and help build houses for community members in Georgetown.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that envisions a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Habitat partners with families in need of decent and affordable housing who then work alongside volunteers to build their house.

Ursinus students worked with community members and experienced construction workers to help build one of the three homes with Habitat in Georgetown. Students worked to install roofing, paint walls, put in doors, and price items for sale at the Restore, a resale store organized by Habitat for Humanity.

Lizzy Dewitt ’19 shared that “the best part of this spring break experience was being exposed to new, challenging tasks… I learned how to assemble different parts of a house and just how much work goes into something as simple as a window or door.”

Alexa Beacham ’19 commented, “It was so lovely seeing people become comfortable on the construction site and in the ReStore, especially those folks that hadn’t had a lot of prior service experience. Everyone
on this trip had so much to offer the greater community of Georgetown, SC, regardless of their prior service experience. Likewise, the greater community of Georgetown has so much to offer us as visitors, and we learned a lot about local customs, community, and strength while we were there.”

Sonya Jacobsen ’19 explained that she loves Habitat because it “allows the volunteers to work alongside homeowners… it gives volunteers the opportunity to form relationships with the community they are helping.
On this trip, we met and worked alongside people from the local community, many of whom came from different backgrounds and had different political or religious views than us. This trip challenged us to overcome these differences and focus on the values that we shared.”

This sense of community extends to the bonds that the students made while on the trip. Jonathan Monkemeyer ’20 commented that “the best aspect of this trip for me was getting closer to people I did not know before and the priceless experience of helping Habitat for Humanity.” Angela Upright added that “the Habitat trip is a journey in connection and meaning making… The genuine friendship and love demonstrated by the Ursinus students and Habitat community was incredibly inspiring and transformative.”

The trip is also an opportunity for vocational discernment, which Upright explains is “the intersection of student’s passions, gifts, and education with the needs of the community… students got to learn from a new community and build new relationships. One of the key takeaways is learning that we must get to know the community in order to best serve with them, which sometimes means changing our preconceived ideas [of] what it means to serve. Each student also gets to affirm their strengths and how they can authentically bring themselves into new spaces.”

Many students find that this trip helped them to think about how they can use their skills and education to address the issues that they care about. Craig Lauer ’20, said, “I had never been involved in longer, more immersive service opportunities before the alternative spring break trip. So last year was beyond life changing for me. It was the trip that sparked my interest in the Peace Corps and continuing service in my life, and Ang of course has been such an incredible inspiration as well.”

Jacobsen said, “As a pre-health student, housing insecurity is relevant to my future career because it is a major factor in health outcomes. This trip allowed me to extend my education outside of the classroom and to make a difference in community health.” Jacobsen believes that service is important for college students of any major “because it helps students to understand social justice issues and to find ways to incorporate those issues into their future career goals.” The students who attended this year hope that in future years, Ursinus continues this trip and creates more opportunities for immersive service.

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