Alternative Winter Break

On January 2nd I left to go with a group from my college to travel to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to work with Habitat for Humanity.

I went on this trip through a program called alternative breaks where college students choose to spend part of their vacation volunteering and serving others. This program was created by a nonprofit organization called Break Away that focuses on active citizenship and direct service.

There are several alternative break programs at colleges throughout the United States, but each campus runs their program a little different. At my school, the program is run through our volunteer center. How the program works is students can choose from at least 10 different social justice issues. At the time of sign up students don’t know where they will be going, only what topic they will focus on. There are 10 participant spots, and 2 site leader spots available for each topic.

Sign ups open at 7:30 A.M on a specified date, and the spots fill up UNDER 3 MINUTES. Some would even say they fill up within 30 seconds. For my break there were 18 topics x 12 spots for each topic = 216 people!

641 students participated, 55 trips went out, 24 states served 36 cites served, and two international trips.

I was lucky enough to get into my top pick – Affordable Housing. Before we went on our break we had weekly meetings for several weeks in order to learn more about affordable housing, the area we would be serving, and our community partner (Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast).

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HFH was working on creating a subdivision which will have approximately 13 houses. Currently the above three houses are the only buildings on the cul de sac. The green house is extremely close to being finished, and the yellow house is about halfway done.

Throughout the week I learned how to install bathroom mirrors and hardware, install window sills and aprons (which required learning how to use a nail gun and a jigsaw), use a paint sprayer to spray doors and trim, and use a table saw. I also learned how to properly stabilize an extension ladder in order to climb all the way up and do some caulking.


Whenever I look at that picture I never think I’m up that high, but then I go back to the picture of the yellow house above and realize how high off the ground the houses are.

Besides just the things that I got to do, our group also learned how to use a miter saw, install baseboards, install flooring, paint, caulk, put together scaffolding, and I’m sure even more.

During our lunch time we also got to talk to the site supervisor about the issue of affordable housing in the south. After hurricane Katrina real estate prices skyrocketed along with insurance prices. Flood zones also changed and therefore new houses being built had to be elevated even more.

Affordable housing and poverty were problems in Mississippi even before Katrina, and 11 years later damage still exists in many places. From what I gathered, the damage left is more due to poverty than natural disaster.

This trip has inspired me to come back and volunteer with my local Habitat for Humanity to further work on the issue of affordable housing. According to the U.S. Census between 2009 and 2013 31.5% of the people in the county were living below the poverty line compared to Michigan’s 16.8%. What’s even crazier is the county we were working in had 15.9% people below the poverty line compared to Mississippi’s 22.7%.

But besides all the knowledge and skillz I gained, we also had a hell of a good time!

This is the day “the (construction) boys” brought us crawfish to try.



On of the guys wearing the hat his squirrel friend (girlfriend) got him for Christmas


and of course a lovely fam pic in our matching shirts and coordinating flannels

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The back says “A house is made of walls and beams, a home is made of love and dreams”

We also got to make several pit stops on the way down to Mississippi including:

The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa


The Iron man statue in Birmingham


The Edmund Pettus bridge and Brown Chapel church in Selma

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There was also this awesome mural on a building just down the road from the bridge


The world’s largest rocker in Gulf Port, Mississippi


Toured New Orleans on a gorgeous 70 degree day.

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And last but not least we stopped at a gas station on our way home and saw this.


I had such an incredible time giving back to the community while getting to know a great group of people and travel some new states. I couldn’t have asked for a better last week of winter break (okay minus the almost 24 hour van ride home because of stupid Indiana and it’s snow… sorry Indiana).

If you want to learn more about Break Away and the alternative breaks program as a whole, click here.

If you want to learn more about Central Michigan University’s alternative breaks and other volunteer programs click here.

Where is somewhere you have been wanting to travel? Have you had a cool volunteer experience too? Tell me about it!

This was a long post, but thanks for hanging in there and listening about my trip. As always…

See You Around!

Lauren ❤


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