During the Alternative Break, Media Relations Editor Skip Traynor intends to visit five service trip sites in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to record student impressions of the service and post photographs every day. Photo galleries of the worksites will be posted on Web pages accessible on the navigation bar at the left hand side of this page.
Monday, Feb. 27, Chalmette, La.
By Erin Bernethy
Wow. Here we are - first day on the job, and words cannot even explain what we're seeing. Driving to our work site this morning, I couldn't help but feel like we had just entered a war zone. No people, no animals, no movement, no businesses open....just large spray-painted Xs on the doors to indicate that no bodies were found. Our job for the next week is to enter a house, clear out a path of debris, knock out the windows for ventilation, and then clear out EVERYTHING in the house - carpet, drywall, ceiling fans, light fixtures, bathtubs.. everything. These really don't even feel like houses. There's not a single thing that isn't wet, moldy, and ruined. The refrigerator might be in the living room, the sofa in the bathtub, and a fishing boat parked like a car in the driveway. Just incredible chaos.
By Pam McClintic
The time has come -- we're all pumped and ready to serve. We arrive at the house and the outside looks alright, but as we enter, the damage is incredible! Where to begin? We try ventilating the house, but you can barely enter. One entrance is blocked by an overturned refrigerator, while the other has a big-screen television blocking the door. We eventually are making our way through the house, clearing paths and deciding what to do with framed family pictures and engraved dishes. At times it doesn't seem like we're in a house at all. And then under all of the overturned furniture, soggy ceiling tiles, and broken glass, all covered in mold, you come across a family picture, or a child's toy -- in this moment reality becomes clear. This was not just a house -- it was a home.
By Julie Lee
Wow, I can hardly believe what we are involved in here. I am in awe of the destruction that a storm could and has caused. Just the ability to come down to Louisiana to serve has been so impacting already. As we arrived in this town, it is truly like nothing else I have ever seen. It is like a ghost town where ever you look. There is hardly anything at all... no stores are opened, no residents living here, just workers and people cleaning up. The camp that we are at with more than 200 volunteers is amazing. I have never been part of such a wonderful cause where each and every individual is ready and willing to work--all the way down to the event planners. Their energy, encouragement, and their positive spirits have helped to motivate all of us even more.
I am so thankful that I have been able to be part of such a great cause that truly is impacting the lives of people. There is no way that this clean up could happen without the wonderful people that are involved from around the nation and our own college. I am so proud to be an Alma Scot this week!! We are so blessed to live in a nation that joins hearts, hands, and spirits to lift those who are in need.
By Skip Traynor
I have witnessed unbelievable damage twice in my life; The tornado that roared through Flint, Mich. in 1956 and bombed-out areas in Viet Nam. This storm has components of both, but much worse. Houses moved off foundations and refrigerators on roofs. Cars in canals. Boats in streets. Trees snapped and stripped of leaves and limbs.
The difference is very few people have returned. Gas stations are closed. A few eateries are open, but most are closed. Big box stores are empty and open -- only in the sense the buildings have no windows. Drive down the street and count the unemployment. Ten waiters here, 100 grocery clerks next door, store after store closed, jobs gone.
The volunteer organizations spearheading the cleanup agree the damage is taking a toll on people, resources and politics. Today's college sophomore volunteers could be coordinating trips in the future for today's high school sophomores and beyond.
Tuesday, Feb. 28, Gulfport, Miss.
The faith-based hurricane relief trip to Gulfport has been keeping a journal since before the trip and are continuing to blog at http://ample-grace.livejournal.com.
By Jim Allen
Canvassing neighborhoods damaged by Hurricane Katrina is certainly one of the most unique and engaging mission opportunities I have experiencced. The job consists of walking door-to-door, much like an old-fashioned salesman, and asking victims of the hurricane if they are in need of assistance. Gathering this information, we are assessing the areas that need the most help, so that later groups of volunteers will spend their time doing valuable projects.
Thus far, this has been an extremely rewarding experience. It has opened my eyes to a level of human tragedy that I have never seen before. On previous trips, when I have only focussed on repairing one house, I have only been to hear one story. However, canvassing has allowed me to hear an entire range of victim stories, from those who were lucky, to those who are contemplating suicide.
Yesterday, an retired elderly gentlemen was shocked to hear that free help was available through local churches. While filling out the assessment for he brought me into his house. Though the exterior appeared fine enough, the interior was like a shell, a skeleton, of everything his life had been before the disaster. There were no walls, no floor, no furniture, no living room, no bedroom, hence, no tangible memories. I was choked up with anguish, and yet, this was only one of the many times I found myself on the verge of tears.
Yet there is hope. Hope in the way families are finding help through local churches, and hope in the way that communities are sticking together. It is times like these when humanity reveals itself, and I am glad to be immersed in it.
By Monica Rentfrow
What I am perhaps most thankful for thus far is getting to know all the people -- the neighborhood people, those in work crews, those who organize the work crews, and our own group. It really is a different world down here. Often I am amazed at the large compassion people are showing one another, including those individuals whose doors we knock on. We have already covered a lot of ground, and have much left to cover. Alma is a small, close-knit community, but I'm amazed at the closeness these people share with each other across such large distances. I'm glad it's only Tuesday because I'm not ready to return home -- even if I am sleep deprived!
By Joyce Kallgren
So far I have been completly amazed at how well accepted we have been and how effective the faith based groups have been. Almost all the people that we talked to who told us that they were "in good shape" had an incredible story of a religious organization who had helped them to get back on their feet. These faith-based groups have picked up the slack where the government has not been able to do the job. We have heard stories of people staying in their houses during the storm, watching the water rise and then just praying it wouldn't get any higher as they continued to climb higher in their houses. These people had to completly start from scratch, not only with their homes but their jobs as well. It is so hard to imagine being able to function in a community with most of the local businesses closed and not many places to turn to for help. I am so excited that we have been able to go and search for more people who are in need because so many helpless families and individuals did not know who to turn to but we have been able to assess people's needs and point them towards an organization that can truly help them.
By Sarah DeYoung
This trip has been very rewarding so far. We were told we were going to canvas the neighborhoods and talk to people - to give them comfort after the storm - and I didn't really think that was that necessary of a service. Canvasing actually entails asking people in the neighborhood if there are any jobs that need completed around their house. This job is what allows other teams to be able to do the physical labor. I've talked to single moms in need of someone to come put new shingles on her roof and repair holes in her ceiling. I've also talked to some elderly folks who just need someone to come clear debris from their yard. Even the individuals who don't need help themselves are so grateful that we are here to help. In addition to these initial assesments that allow the churches to help others, we have been able to help the church. Sunday morning we gave the pastor at Handboro Presbyterian a break and we led worship in his place, complete with contemporary songs that even the elderly in the congregation enjoyed even if they couldn't sing along. It is great being able to share our multiple gifts and feel that we are serving people in need in ways that might not have been expected.
By Johanna Thompson
Before coming down to Mississippi, I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was going to be a good experience, but I had no idea how much it would change me-- it's already changing me. It's so amazing to actually be here. I've seen the pictures on T.V., I've heard the news reports and read about the hurricane damage in magazines and newspapers. But it's hard to get the whole picture without being here. Saturday night, we drove along the coast. Debris littered the beach, huge hotels had their complete foundations washed away, homes were leveled. I was shocked to see it-- in person. It totally brought the reality of the situation into perspective. This is real. Real people have lost everything they have. Real people have no homes. And yet, I find it amazing how optimistic some people are. I saw a Mardi Gras parade float drive past us, sporting a banner which said, "Katrina took our houses, but she couldn't take our memories." I think that some people down here really have a good understanding of what's really important-- and it's not always the material things, as devastating as it is to lose your home, your possesions, your memories. I've needed this for a long time. I've needed to take some time away from the fast-paced world we live in; time to think about what's really important, strengthen my faith, and try to help people. It's wonderful to feel so united to the other members of our group, as well as the members of the church here. The worship services are so powerful and uplifting. I really feel like I belong here, and this is what I should be doing. I am incredibly glad I came on this trip, and I can't wait to see what else God chooses to teach us over the next few days.
By Katrina Bundy and Erika Fitzgerald
We have had a totally eye opening experience so far this week. It has been amazing to be able to see the community pull together and help each other out. People are more willing to help others than to ask for help themselves. Being able to hear the stories of the people who experienced Hurricane Katrina has helped us to recognize the reality of the situation. These people have really experienced a difficult situation but have pulled together and kept hope to survive it. As long as they keep that spirit they will continue to thrive. Leading worship on Sunday introduced us to the community and people of Gulfport. It centered us for the week and reminded us why we were here. It was really enjoyable to see how our worship service moved the people in the congregation. God has brought us here for a particular purpose and we look forward to seeing what else that entails.
By Amber Billman
I really don't think that you can possibly understand the full impact Katrina has had on the people down here until you walk through the rubble and look into their eyes. This has been an experience that will affect my life forever. The sense of community and love that has bonded these people together is amazing. We came down here to help, to offer up our services expecting nothing in return, and I am positive that we are already taking away more from this experience than ever thought possible. Being down here and feeling this overwhelming sense of family and love, both in Christ and in our efforts to help others, has affected me on another level as well. Never before in my life has the music and the prayers been more appreciated and more needed than here and my personal relationship with God has grown tenfold for it. You wouldn't think that something as small as a smile, doing a load of laundry, or even filing paperwork could mean so much to someone. Everything we do is appreciated and the teamwork is amazing, I could stay here forever.
By Stephanie Zachar
It's amazing both how much work has been done in Gulfport already and how much work still has to be done. Some of the houses have been completely rebuilt, but some of them still look like they haven't been touched. What amazes me is how resilient the people are. Most of the people that we talked to were overjoyed to see us walking around but they immediately began telling us all the things they had done themselves. Very few people will ask for help for themselves, but they are more than willing to tell us which neighbors need help. The strong sense of community is amazing. I've also gotten the chance to work in the office here doing some of the paperwork. The logistics of organizing all the volunteer teams is overwhelming. I've been helping with some of it and the Bates are very grateful. I love doing something that really feels worthwhile, especially since most people aren't excited about knocking on doors or filing paperwork. I'm really seeing how God uses people who are willing workers down here. I'd love to be able to come back here at some point.
Wednesday, March 1, Bunnell, Fla.
The Alma students are working on their housing project side-by-side with seven Lake Superior State University students.
by Sun Woo, Jeong
Habitat for umanity gives me a chance to appreciate what I have. I get to realize how blessed I am while helping others with a bunch of great colleagues. As an exchange student from Korea, I am glad that I can make some contribution to the community by participating in the Habitat.
by Janet Van Zoeren
The most amazing thing to me about this trip is how well the group
has bonded. Before coming I was a little bit worried that people
wouldn't get along very well or that they would split off into small
groups of similar interests, since we have such a variety of cliques.
However, every day I am amazed to see everyone laughing uproariously
with each other as well as sharing their impressions of service,
poverty, religion, and breaking the Alma bubble.
Our work on site has included framing, laying sod, and last minute details such as painting, scrubbing, and cabinetry. By the end of the week we will have finished work on one house and put in a good beginning on another. Although it's not always immediately obvious that there is a grand difference in the world due to the work that we do, the house-owners, about to move into their new house, make it obvious that we are at least making a difference in the lives of a few people.
By Joann Piccolo
Today we framed a house. It was amazing to see what a little bit of work formed and created for someone's life. Habitat for Humanity is amazing at community building, in tangible and abstract ways. I really have enjoyed how close our group has become. We have inside jokes with 11 people and we just met 4 days ago! It's been awesome!
By Ethan Nayback, Lake Superior State University
This is the first Habitat for Humanity project I have ever been
involved with. I am thoroughly impressed with the organization of how
everything comes together and flows so smoothly. I work construction
part-time back at home, but this is definately a more rewarding
feeling. It is incredible to be a part of something like Habitat
knowing that my group and I are helping others that may be less
fortunate. Working together with the other college group is so much
fun. Meeting others and forming new friendships.
Habitat for Humanity is an excellent way to witness the infinite
love of Jesus Christ while being able to see new places and local
attractions here in Florida.
By Katy Smith
This alternative break trip has exceeded every one of the expectations I had before coming. I have had an amazing time so far not only working with Habitat, but with everything. Working on the site has been really awesome. I have mostly done a lot of the finishing touches in one of the houses. For example, I have painted, cleaned, and just have done other things to get the house ready for the dedication on Sunday. It really is fun for me to see the house being completed and becoming more of a home and knowing that someone who normally wouldn't ever be able to afford a house like this is getting the opportunity to start their family in a fresh house and basically start a new life. Also, I have loved getting to know everyone, because the people from Alma on this trip except for one are probably people I would never hang out with and being able to meet them and get to know them is rewarding in its self. So far, I am having a great trip and hopefully can keep up doing service, because I would have never thought it would be this amazing.
Thursday, March 2, Jacksonville, Fla.
By Lindsay Teeples
What can I say? So far, this trip has exceeded my expectations and
then some! Although after a hard day of work we can rest assured that
our time has helped someone who needed it, without question, we are
taking so much more from the people than we are giving. Yesterday
we worked at an organization called Angelwood. Here dedicated
volunteers worked around the clock to assist parents who were
struggling to care for their disabled child. Because of the extreme
time commitments these people faced daily, much of the yard work was
left unkempt. So together, our group trimmed trees, weeded,
bagged leaves (70, 30 gallon garbage bags!) as well as painted a room,
laid tile, and assembled furniture. Needless to say, we were about
spent by 4 pm, but had a memorable time singing Bohemian Rhaposdy while
One last quick thought... especially to the Hurricane Relief workers-- Over Thanksgiving my family and I went down to work with the Katrina victims, and saw first hand the devastation facing the people of the Gulf Coast. When my Dad got back, he decided that he wanted to find some way to involve the Grand Rapids community, and create some sort of fundraiser for Mississippi and New Orleans. With the help of some others, there will be a benefit dinner on Sunday, March 12th from 2-6 pm in Grand Rapids. There is a free three course meal with the hope to have people donate to the cause, as well as bring awareness to the very real need of the people down there. I am writing this to invite any of you who are interested in attending this event (not just the Katrina group!) The more money we can raise, the better, but obviously, any amount will help! I thought this might be an awesome opportunity to involve the Alma community and help those who desperately need it! If you're interested, you can contact my Dad (who will no doubt talk your ear off ) who will be more than happy to explain to you what you can do! His contact information is:
I hope everyone is having a wonderful time, and are soaking up their time away from papers, homework, and lectures! Can't wait to see you all soon!
By Nick Nicholas
People have told me all my life "If you help others, the favor will be returned to you." I don't really think that this applies this past week, because it is the helping part that has given me a reward, and just knowing that I have made a difference makes me feel satisfied. The service we are doing makes me think of the people who have grown old and still feel like they haven't fulfilled what they were meant to; this is my fulfillment. I can't really say that I have felt like more of a blessing in any person's life, and I would like to thank Alma College and the First Presbyterian Church for arranging this awakening experience for all of us. I am not at all looking forward to leaving this beautiful weather, but I do miss my "brothers", friends, family, and others. I think that this is going to be something that I would like to do annually until I have completed my undergraduate degree, and I would like to encourage others to get out and make a difference in somebody else's life. I feel like I don't deserve all of the things that I have been blessed with in my life, and I just want those who don't have anything to know that they have people that they have never met that care about them and want nothing but the best for them.
This past week has been a blessing for me and the rest of the group, and I know that we are going to get the best possible experience out of this. God bless all of the people who don't have a warm place to stay with a good meal to eat. I hope that we have made a significant difference in somebody's life this past week. This city is where I belong, and I would like to continue making a difference.
By Lisette Hoeltzel
It can be a bit difficult doing service in Jacksonville. It is
needed by all sorts of people in all sorts of ways and there is just
not enough of us to go around. The things we do--sorting and
patching clothing, offering food and shelter to the homeless, holding
conversations with the elderly--they are things that you do for a few
hours and then you have to part ways. We cannot stand back and
admire all the work we've accomplished, and sometimes we feel guilty
because we feel like we haven't done much, but that's just not the
case. We patched a shirt that some little girl will be be able to
wear that she otherwise wouldn't have been able to have at all, we
painted the room of a small child a brighter color that she will enjoy
in the group home she lives in, we laughed and exchanged stories and
jokes with elderly men and women and brought joy to them for an
afternoon. For all that these people need they don't ask for
much, and what small things they do ask for we provide for
them. We might not be able to stand back and view all the
things we've accomplished in physical form, but we have had some sort
of impact on these people and, hopefully, we will be able to be
that bit of positive change in their lives the way they are for us.
By Matt Sheick
Here it is, Thursday morning, and we've already accomplished so much. So far we've helped set up an emergency cold night homeless shelter, unpacked clothes to be distributed, visited a retirement home, and painted and laid tile in a home for disabled children. It feels amazing to see the true gratitude and appreciation in the eyes of the people you are helping. And even when others don't come out and say "thank you," you walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. This trip is really cementing the importance of service and helping others in my values. We are only giving up a few hours each day and having a great time doing it (the group has bonded exceptionally well) but the small amount of help we are giving people is really making a difference. I hope this difference doesn't stay in the Jacksonville area, but follows us back to Michigan and the Alma community.
Friday, March 3, Glenwood, Fla.
By Casey Binkley
we got to the Duvall Home I had no idea how well the residents would be
treated. I expected them to sit around a lot and not do much of
anything. However, I was completely wrong. The residents
got to do so many things outside of the home such as the park as well
as at do things at the home. Seeing the smiles on their faces at
the park was the best. They got so excited to see the manatees
and the fish and just being outside that the one day made the trip
There was a difficult part of the trip as well. Not being able to communicate with some of the residents or at least not knowing whether or not when you talked to them if they could understand was hard. But you could always tell when they were excited to see you. Their faces and the noises they made when they were happy or upset brought a smile to my face and I wouldn't trade the chances to get to know the residents as well as the staff. It was a fabulous week and hopefully they enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them.
By Megan Coffin
When I first arrived at the home it was everything I expected.
Having worked with many people with disabilities it was what was
expected. Working with the residents was a little more involved
than what I was thinking. I thought they would not be able to do
nearly as much as they really can do. It has been great to see
what all the residents can do and the special talents that they all
The most difficult part of this trip for me was listening to their stories. Some of them are so touching and hard to understand. They are so passionate about everything they talk about that it makes it so much harder. Understanding what they have been through is so hard to understand. Also, some of the residents are a little harder to understand so it is hard to know if they understand what we are telling them. To know if they fully understand or if it needs to be repeated. These were the two most difficult things for me on the trip, but it truly has been everything that expected it to be.
By Shannon Dier
Our time here has been simply amazing. I didn't know what to
expect when I signed up to come, but I never anticipated having so much
fun! The residents here live each day with such joy, and they are
so open to meeting new people and making friends. Their sweet
smiles and eagerness to talk made us feel instantly welcome. Each
time our group came back together to eat a meal or do an activity, we
found ourselves laughing and sharing stories about the antics of the
residents we'd worked with that day.
At first, it felt as if we weren't doing enough, but the employees here have shown us such gratitude and explained that everything we do is a great help. The residents truly crave the one-on-one attention that we can give them. Even spending an afternoon weeding the garden or raking up leaves makes a big difference to their quality of life. I will leave her with a handful of precious photos and a heart full of happy memories, determined to live my life with as much joy for simple pleasures as I have seen here in my new friends.
By John Horne
When we first arrived I was not sure what expect. However after a
few hours here and after our orientation was I was ready to go. I have
had many great time with the clients here. Everyone loves talking to a
set of new fresh faces and the staff is more then willing to help us
with any problems or concerns. I feel like my presence here as made a
huge impact in the life of the people here on the campus and in the
However, this has not been all fun and games. Some of the clients here are unable to communicate. Trying to figure out what they want or what they need has become a huge challenge. Even though you can't talk with them they still enjoy hearing your voice or holding your hand to go for walk. I really look forward to coming home and sharing my stories with my fellow students at Alma.
By Amanda Abramczyk
I was really excited to come to the Duvall Home and work during this
week. In the beginning, I was a little disappointed that we
weren't getting as much time with some of the residents as I had
expected, but after a day or so we were able to spend more one-on-one
time with the clients. Walking them around in the glorious
weather, playing games with them, and being able to talk with them was
a great experience.
I also loved getting to know their individual personalities. Some dislike certain colors of food, while others exhibit behavior that I assume is the result of some unfortunate treatment from their past, before they were residents at the home. However, most all of them are very proud of their families, whether it be parents, siblings, or guardians, and enjoy describing where they are from and what they do. Communication is a challenge at times, but making them laugh is the main way that I have tried to verify that they are enjoying themselves. I can only hope that some of them remember us and that the friendships we've made over this week have helped to brighten their lives and have made an impact on their perspectives of visitors. I know the experiences I've had with them have made an impact on me and changed some of my perspectives on life. It was a great experience and I'm glad I had the privilege to meet all the wonderful people, clients and workers alike.
By Drew Emge
Wow, what an AMAZING week! Working with the residents of the
Duvall Home was a life-changing experience. As soon as we arrived
for our first day, we were welcomed with open arms and ear-to-ear
smiles by both the residents and employees.
Looking back on the week, I can't remember a single time when a resident didn't have a beaming grin on his or her face. Whether the activity be coloring, assembling puzzles, or walking around the beautiful grounds of Duvall, each resident was laughing and having the time of his or her life. Finding such joy in these simple activities amazes me. The residents don't have a care in the world. Lacking the stresses of working or making sure the bills are paid on time, each resident is capable of expressing the deepest possible feelings of happiness and love--I wish I was able to do that. I hope that I am always able to remember the friendships I have established and the great times that I have had working with the people here at the Duvall Home over this short week.
By Angela Zamarripa
This week has opened my eyes to a community that many people
including myself forgets exists. When people with mental and
physical disabilities get older they don't just disappear they continue
to live and they continue to need special care. The Duvall home
is an extraordinary place where wonderful people take special care of
extra special clients. The one thing that I have come to realize during this week is that the
clients here are just as normal as everyone else. When you look
past some of their physical differences you see the same people that
you would walk past in the grocery store. In all reality they are
some of the kindest people I've met in my entire life.
I was a little apprehensive about coming on this trip in the beginning, but I'm glad I did, I wouldn't have wanted to spend my spring break any other way.
Sunday, March 5, Home
By Skip Traynor
We're back home. This trip, a whirlwind tour of five groups, has been like none of the other alternative breaks since 2003. The annual break trips are a reinforcement of my belief that Alma students are capable future leaders. This year, my optimism that we can achieve a greater society has been renewed.
In the wake of devastation, I saw a groundswell of volunteers coming from all parts of the U.S. and some foreign countries to lift fallen spirits and rebuild a unique city. I heard the story of a 74-year-old woman who struggled in waist-deep water to save her home and say with a smile "that God touched her shoulder" and saved her life. While waiting for her home to be rebuilt, she was helping less fortunate neighbors. I visited organizations that partner with other organizations to enhance the meager governmental funding for social services. I met people who gave up lucrative careers and get paid peanuts to mend the rips in our social fabric.
Every where I went, anyone working with the Alma students made it a point to tell me they are "a great bunch of kids." Polite. Respectful. Decent. Fun. Hard working. I heard every superlative imaginable. Just about the time I was ready to give in to travel fatigue and sleepless nights, someone suffering far worse than me would say something like "Alma has a lot to be proud of."
The students' eyes were opened by the intertwining of tragedy and hope. Tough guys on the verge of tears, students wrapped up in the Alma Bubble.
Read Johanna Thompson's blog: "I've needed this for a long
time. I've needed to take some time away from the fast-paced world we
live in; time to think about what's really important, strengthen my
faith, and try to help people."
Amber Billman: "This has been an experience that will affect my life forever. The sense of community and love that has bonded these people together is amazing. We came down here to help, to offer up our services expecting nothing in return, and I am positive that we are already taking away more from this experience than ever thought possible."
Matt Sheick: "This trip is really cementing the importance of service and helping others in my values."
Jim Allen: "Yet there is hope. Hope in the way families are finding help through local churches, and hope in the way that communities are sticking together. It is times like these when humanity reveals itself, and I am glad to be immersed in it."
I too have taken much from this experience. I know that all the
stuff I have at home can be taken in a flash, but I know what is most
important. I could leave Alma College tomorrow and I know where I would
go. Jason Latz always tries to get me to rate the groups. This year
there was no one good group; they were all best.