“12 active citizens, 2 vans, 1 social issue”. On December 14, 2013, myself and 11 other students at Central Michigan University found the bravery in our souls to set out on a mission that we had no clue as to what to expect. The Alternative Breaks program through the Volunteer Center at the University allowed us to give back into other communities that we were not familiar with, but aware of their struggles. We were all lucky enough to have gotten a spot in seconds of signing up while hundreds of other students were waitlisted. Amongst signing up, the only thing that we were aware of was the issue, Natural Disaster. We had no clue where in the United States we would be spending a week of our winter break to volunteer and we knew nothing about one another. Later, we were extremely excited to find out that we would be traveling to New Orleans, LA by two vans all the way from Mount Pleasant, MI. This proved that we were willing to trust one another enough in order to complete such a tremendous task at stake. All of us individuals barely knew anything about each other, but we had one thing in common which was to make a mark in this world. We never expected for it to make a mark on us.
The St. Bernard Project is an non-profit organization dedicated to re-building disaster stricken communities and making sure they recover in the most prompt and efficient way. Our job as college positive volunteers with the organization was to ensure construction on a home of a man who was a victim of Hurricane Katrina. Eight years later and he was still not able to live back in his home. We worked on his home everyday from 8:30am-4:00pm. This man was a single father of two boys who are now teenagers, but were young children during the storm. He was always willing to help someone in need and was even renting out space in his home at the time. After the storm, he paid a contractor a huge amount to repair his home, but they took off with the money. He became a victim of contractor fraud. The most touching issue about his life is that he suffered from a severe illness that was caused in accident when he used to do construction work. The crazy thing about the situation is that he probably knew everything that needed to be done to his home as far as construction, but just was not in the condition to make the repairs. That has to be the most heart breaking thing to face, knowing what needs to be done but unable to make it happen. Immediately after hearing his story, we became very humble and appreciative of being able to experience this with one another while getting to know one another along the way.
One of the most profound pieces of this experience was getting to know one another on a more personal level. We spent every hour of the day with each other for seven whole days. We were eager to know one another’s’ stories. Every night, we would reflect on the highs and lows of the day. It was so satisfying to hear what everyone was gaining from the experience. We also did team building exercises. “Common Ground” had to be the most powerful of them all. We got in a circle as our site leaders would throw out situations that we may have faced. Those who have experienced those things had to claim common ground by stepping in the middle. For example, one of the site leaders stated, “claim common ground if you are afraid to be alone the rest of your life”. There was no talking allowed. We just let it all sink in and no one judged any one. For the first time in a lot of our lives, we did not feel alone. We realized that people who were so different from ourselves were yet so similar.
As college students, we constantly juggled finding our niche in life. Upon arrival in New Orleans, we were so afraid of not meeting society’s expectations of us. We wanted to fit in more than we wanted to stand out. It is funny how life works because in the mist of all the confusion about what we wanted life to make of us, we met such a unique man. He was so sure of himself and about what he wanted to be in this world. In fact, he made every effort possible to duck and dodge the expectations of society. He focused more on meeting the expectations of himself. He sat down at lunch with all of us one day and shared a story. While he was out making a change such as ourselves, a woman told him “Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open and you will see what you need to see”! At that moment, he saw his life for what he wanted it to be. She was to him what he was to us. Everything we were searching for, we found because we opened ourselves to new things and realized that no one is to determine our satisfactory but us. It took us a while to really adjust to such an amazing feeling. We were in complete disbelief that we were finally grasping the concept of life with people we were basically just meeting. We had to erase fear and negativity to add the positivity in order to put those pieces of the big puzzle together.
Caulk is a filler that is used to fill the cracks and holes in something with a substance that also keeps water out. Doing construction on the house, this was one of the substances we used the most. It was a task that everyone could do and it was also pretty fun. The whole crew caulked when necessary. It is similar to life. This journey has broadened our horizon. We found that using caulk to repair that house was identical to what we needed to do, use the method of caulk to repair our lives. When we began to fill those cracks in and fill in those holes, all of our unanswered questions were answered and all of our uncertainty was erased. Instead of keeping water away, we kept society’s motives away. We became unbound and not enslaved with the world’s perceptions. We starting unraveling the things that made us happy, the things that made us move, and the things that made us inspire others to be inspired. Opening up to one another may have been the scariest thing for most of us because of such short time, but opening up was the most beautiful thing. Although majority of us had any construction experience prior to this mission, we are now all construction experts. We not only helped rebuild a broken home due to a disaster, but we helped rebuild each other. We helped rebuild what was tearing us down, what was stopping us from being who we really were, and what was creating fear in our minds. When we decided to caulk, everything came together.