Nearly two-dozen college students are in South Mississippi this week as part of United Way’s Alternative Spring Break Program. They came to provide families and individuals with opportunities for a better life, here is a story from one of the participants.
By Kara Collier, Purdue University
After a 14-hour car ride with three fellow Purdue University students, I had finally arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi to embark on a new experience, in a new place, with new friends. Deciding to participate in an alternative spring break through United Way was a last minute impulse decision for me. I was faced with the pressure from my peers to go on a traditional spring break while at the same time I was eager for a different experience. I decided to sign up for ASB with slight hesitation, but within minutes of my arrival to Biloxi I knew I had made the right decision. I was greeted by some of the most friendly, hospitable people that instantly put me at ease and made me feel comfortable.
Once all 23 of the ASB participants had arrived safely, we headed to the beautiful welcome center to get to know each other a little better and to get a better understanding of the history and culture of Biloxi. After some ice breakers, team group collaborations, and a scrumptious dinner I began to realize I was surrounded by some of the most inspirational, amazing college students from all across the country. It amazed me how open everyone was to conversing with each other and branching out and ensuring that everyone was included. It was a refreshing breath of fresh air to say the least. After getting to know my remarkable ASB members, we began to learn a little bit more about Biloxi and United Way. We were given presentations by United Way President, William Yates, Executive Director Sue Suter and United Way Worldwide representative Tonya Wiley where we were given a better understanding about the importance of building sustainable communities and providing resources to those in need. While hurricane Katrina was 8 years ago and the majority of the rebuilding has been done, there is still less obvious work that needs to be accomplished to give this community all of the support they need. These motivational speeches were just what we needed to get us fired up for our first day of work!
We were up bright and early on Monday for our first day of work and my anticipation was uncontainable! My team consisted of six members and we were working with the Boys and Girls Club. We began the day with a trip to the CDC Climb, a resource for at-risk youth ages 16-25 to obtain their GED and get hand’s-on experience and certifications in construction and food service. We talked to the CEO of this company and her passion for this cause was truly inspiring. For our week we will be working with this group of youth to help improve the local Boys and Girls Club. Today our primary job was to repaint all of the walls in this 22,000 square foot building; not an easy task but with teamwork we accomplished all of our goals. I worked individually with about 5 students from CDC Climb and together we painted but we also discussed our cultures, backgrounds, and future goals. It was an amazing opportunity for me to not only learn about the traditions of Mississippi but it was also an chance for me to act as a role model to these kids and help inspire them to believe in themselves and chase after their dreams. Sometimes it is hard to remember that all someone might need to be successful is a little push and encouragement. I made it a goal at that moment in time to get to know these few individuals better over the week and hopefully be able connect with each in them in some way. From the surface, it may not seem like painting a few walls makes much of an impact, but each good act has a ripple effect and broader influences that you can see superficially.
After an eventful day at our work site, we headed back to the church we were staying at to relax a little before a cookout and bonfire! The cookout was delicious, but getting to hear everyone’s stories from the day was the best part of the meal. Other sites include the Salvation Army where they painted the main commons area; Habitat for Humanity where they are building a new home for a family; Lynn Meadows Discovery Center they spend the day cleaning the interior space in preparation for school visits. After talking with several people, it sounded like everyone had just as good as a day as I did! For our social event, we had a bonfire on the beach! While it was a bit chilly, it was nice to relax with my new friends and enjoy the beauty of Biloxi Beach. I’m looking forward to my upcoming projects the rest of the week!