By Molly Schlagel
My name is Molly Schlagel, a junior at Purdue University. This month, I attended an Alternative Spring Break co-sponsored by United Way of South Mississippi and United Way Worldwide and was assigned to the Salvation Army project in Gulfport, MS. Before we arrived, we were told that our projects would include painting a large common room as well as landscaping and beautification of the building’s exterior. We were anxious for our first day at the site to get a more specific idea of our tasks for the week. Upon arriving at our site, the very first thing I noticed was the hospitality and appreciation we received from the incredibly hardworking staff at the Salvation Army. They were not only thrilled to have us there, the also wanted to learn more about each of us. We were given a tour of the building, which was quite old and run-down with scuffmarks covering the walls and discolored/chipped paint. Directly after our tour, my team rolled up our sleeves and got right to work. We ended up painting the interior of the building – an entire set of kitchen cabinets, a giant common room, and two long concrete hallways. We also power-washed the sidewalks outside the front of the building. While it wasn’t what we expected going into the week, it was more rewarding than I ever imagined.
What surprised me most about the week was the sheer amount of work my team and I were able to accomplish. I was blown away by our ability to communicate and work together even though we just met and had very different backgrounds. In just four short days, I connected with my teammates through problem solving, collaborative decision-making and pushing each other to work harder and better. Even though we were faced with a large volume of work, I never once heard any of my team members complain or doubt our ability to get it all done. We made the time pass with ease by joking, singing along to the radio, telling stories to get to know each other more.
On the last day at our site, we could not believe how fast the week had gone, and how much we had grown to care about one another and the people who were benefitting from the hours of our hard work. One of our favorite Salvation Army employees remarked at the end, “You all have no idea the impact you have made here. You have provided us with a more professional environment, and have made our building a beautiful place for us to come to work and for our clients to come receive aid.” The amount that my teammates and I believed in and cared about the work we were doing was obvious in our final product – it truly looked amazing, and it filled me with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Overall, I could not have asked for a better ASB experience. I am leaving South Mississippi with 22 new friends that I feel so blessed to have met over the course of one week. I have a deep appreciation for the Biloxi community and the selfless, goodhearted people who spend their days helping others at the Salvation Army. Ultimately, I feel that I truly made a difference in this community, and will absolutely be participating in United Way's Alternative Spring Break again next year. It is a truly amazing and life-changing way to make the absolute most of a spring break – thank you United Way!