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Houses, Hammers, and Having Fun

Fátima shares her experience working on construction in Iowa over spring break.

Fátima shares her experience working on construction in Iowa over spring break.

The long-awaited spring break came and went. Though I could have used an extra week, I could not have spent this one in a better way. I was lucky enough to join one of the Center for Community and Civic Engagement’s (CCCE) Alternative Spring Break trips to Waterloo, Iowa. Nine fellow Carls and I spent the week working with Habitat for Humanity, exploring what Waterloo and Cedar Falls had to offer.

The Work

Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to provide affordable and dignified housing for people all over the world. In Waterloo, they have made it their focus to transform a specific neighborhood and ensure quality housing for its residents, present and future.

Josh and I on the roof installing shingles.
Josh and I on the roof installing some shingles.

We spent our week under the mentorship of John, an incredible guy who has worked with Habitat for six years. He taught us everything we needed to know about construction. We worked primarily in a single house, where we did everything from siding, to installing roof shingles, to insulating the basement. In addition, we worked on siding a different, almost finished house. We also painted the interior of a house damaged by a fire.

Whether measuring, nailing, or cutting, from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm you could find us battling rain, wind, and snow to get the work done. Though a little uncomfortable at times, we did our best and I am enormously proud of all of us for our hard work.

I definitely learned a lot, from how to use a stud-finder to the proper way to hammer steel versus aluminum nails. Though I had never done similar work, I got the hang of it quicker than I thought I would. By the end, I must admit I also grew to enjoy climbing up the scaffolding and handling a chisel.

My new friends and I rocking our ponchos to protect us from the rain.
My new friends and I rocking our ponchos to protect us from the rain.


Being so far away from campus, we naturally need a place to stay. We were kindly hosted by the Orchard Hill Church that provided us a room to sleep in and allowed us to use their kitchen to prepare most of our meals. Our grocery shopping trips, funded by the CCCE, supplied us with everything we could have asked for to cook.

Pasta, garlic bread, and meatballs.
We made some pasta!

Lunch was covered by the Habitat for Humanity office. They welcomed us with sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and drinks, and threw us a pizza party on our last day! We were also served dinner twice at the Church by different groups who shared their meals with us.

Finally, with what was left from our budget we dined out the last two nights of our trip. This is one of my favorite memories of the week. We truly bonded as a group laughing together, teasing each other, and telling funny stories about our workday.


As much as we enjoyed the manual labor, this was Spring Break after all, and as such, we got the opportunity to relax a little and bond as a group. From karaoke nights (I am so sorry to everyone that had to hear me sing) to playing sardines, we kept ourselves entertained.

Eunice and I giving love to Coco, the dog.
I got to meet the most adorable pup!

We also got free passes to a Ninja Gym! Funnily enough, we all looked ridiculously unfit compared to the 10-year-olds who populated it. (Admittedly, spent most of our time playing fun but tiring dodgeball matches.) Other afternoons were spent bowling, walking at a natural reserve, and visiting a local art museum.

Our days would conclude with some personal downtime, which I used to read Umberto Eco’s Numero Zero. (Short review: not my favorite of Eco’s books, but still a must-read if you are a fan of the Italian author.) Then, we would all go to sleep relatively early in preparation for the busy day that awaited us.

Best Break Ever!

Overall, I cannot think of a better way to spend my Spring Break. This past week has easily become one of my most cherished memories of college and I am incredibly thankful to all the people that made it possible. I was very blessed to have spent my week with these amazing individuals, explore a new state, and do some satisfying work! I am quite refreshed and ready to embrace my last first-year term.

Us posing in front of one of the houses we worked at.
The Wonder Team!

Fátima strives to learn everything about everything, but is especially interested in Sociology/AnthropologyPsychology, and Disney! As a freshman, she can’t wait to introduce her peers to her native Guatemalan culture, put into practice her newly acquired ASL skills, and play in the snow for the first time. In her free time, Fátima can be found watching cartoons, poorly playing the ukulele, or desperately missing her dog, Cosmo. Meet the other bloggers!