This guest post was contributed by Angelita Williams, sharing her story of volunteering in college.
While I was involved in some college activities with varying degrees of commitment, they usually involved my vaunted literary ambitions—the college newspaper and fiction journal. I did little in the way of participating in activities that actually helped people, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I often thought of such activities as the ineffectual efforts of “do-gooders.”
During spring break of my sophomore year, however, my best friend had decided to apply for a leadership position for an alternative spring break. Once she received the position to lead a team into Reynosa, Mexico, to help build homes in the projects, she begged me to participate. More out of a desire to hang out with my best friend than to actually participate in the program, I signed up, inwardly sighing that I’d given up the more popular option of a wild spring break by the beach.
Once we actually hit the road, I found myself in the company of a remarkably diverse group of students. Despite the fact that my university numbered less than 2,000 undergraduates, I had never met any of these students in the two years I had spent attending. Each one of them had a different story to tell, and they radically discredited my “do-gooder” stereotype. They were all intelligent, passionate, informed, and just plain cool people to talk to.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My Alternative Spring Break experience was far from easy, but it was far from boring either. We spent a large part of each day mixing cement, lining up bricks, and digging holes. With the help of seasoned workers, the three homes we eventually completed began to take shape before our very eyes. I was amazed at how tiring but ultimately rewarding getting dirty and working with your hands could actually be. The workers we toiled with side by side were, of course, much faster and adept than we were, and we spent many a minute laughing at how slowly I mixed the cement.
Other than just the actual work, we would spend evenings at various places throughout the city that gave us a closer glimpse into how the other half lives, works, and fights for their rights. One day, we visited a factory established by an American car company. We were actually able to see for ourselves how manufacturing—something relatively foreign in America these days—works, and how grueling the labor can be. The next day, we sat in on a union meeting, and later in the week we visited another worker advocacy group. Every day after our work on homes, we shared a sit-down meal with the families we were helping.
Now as cheesy as this sounds, the last family meal we had together had me in tears. These incredibly intelligent, humble people were so grateful for having the opportunity to talk to us and help us help them. I’m definitely not one for melodrama, but I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that that trip changed my life. It changed my view of the importance of participating whole-heartedly in efforts to help those who don’t have the comforts of the first-world merely handed to them the day they were born. I became more grateful, more aware, and more committed to doing something important with my life. And all of this happened over the course of one week.
If your school offers any of the Alternative Spring Break options, jump on it as soon as you can. I promise you won’t regret it.
This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.