The CCCE organized two Alternative Spring Breaks that ran this past March: one in Waterloo, Iowa, and one in Finland, Minnesota. Through an immersive learning experience in Finland, Minnesota, students studied best agricultural practices and worked on a sustainable farm. The program that went to Waterloo worked with Habitat for Humanity to construct a house for a low-income family. Hopeful participants for each program found the respective application forms on the CCCE website, and ultimately 17 students from varying years and majors volunteered.
Students from all class years and backgrounds are encouraged to run school-break trips, as exemplified by Clara Posner ’22, one of the leaders on the Waterloo program. The Maine native and prospective CAMs major was a first-time Carleton trip leader and is currently training to be an advocate at the Hope Center. Clara drove her group down from Northfield to their worksite, where they were hosted by a local church for their week in the Waterloo community. “I worked for a homeless shelter back home for four years and I had done some previous work with low-income housing,” Clara said, explaining what inspired her to apply. “However, I had never done anything like Habitat before. When I saw the opportunity, I realized I wanted to apply to be a leader and try to get involved.”
Each of the six students on the trip had little previous experience in construction, but with Habitat for Humanity it did not matter. The group worked for eight to nine hours a day under the supervision of a Habitat employee who helped them with various tasks such as painting the house, trimming and caulking the windows, and putting in flooring. Unlike many other types of service work, part of what makes Habitat for Humanity so fulfilling is how personal and hands-on their projects are.
It was hard for Clara to choose the single, most rewarding facet of her program. Instead, she found it was a number of small, personal moments that made her glad she spent her break working rather than going home. “We met the woman we were building the house for. She was a single parent with a three-year-old son. Just knowing that we were doing it for her was an amazing experience.”
The group leaders were also able to witness the difference the trip made for each participating Carleton student. Clara is the first to admit her own timidity in new situations, and she was nervous due to the initial reticence of her peers. Within the week, though, there was a marked change in their demeanors. Clara cited the group’s final reflection, when one of the girls spoke up to say, “I usually don’t talk at all, but this trip made me realize that I can actually stand out, say my opinion and be part of a group. It made me realize that I actually love doing stuff like this.” This comment could not have been more gratifying for the trip leaders, who worked hard to create an environment where everyone felt part of the team.
Carleton always tries to ensure that community engagement is a two-way street. The CCCE is driven to create collaborative service programs, and mutually beneficial experiences. Alternative Spring Breaks embody this attitude of reciprocity by facilitating intimate and often lasting partnerships with our community contacts. Clara and her co-leader, Rina, are two of the many Carleton students who participate in leadership roles throughout the year and new opportunities are constantly cropping up.
Continue to check the CCCE website for information about volunteer events and our summer break fellowships.