But for the group, participating in the Habitat for Humanity-sponsored Alternative Spring Break, perhaps nothing made them long for home quite as much as the moment they were sitting in a Birmingham diner during a fierce southern rain and a tornado warning siren went off.
“That rain was much different than anything we experience in California,” said senior kinesiology student Diego Martinez. “We asked our waitress what we should do and she was very nonchalant about the whole thing. It seemed very normal for them.”
In addition to helping build and repair houses in needy areas of Birmingham, students visited sites around the city that are part of the history of the civil rights movement. It all was part of the educational experience Alternative Spring Break participants receive that extends well beyond learning to measure a board twice before cutting.
“Alternative Spring Break is an opportunity for students to forego the typical spring break experience for one that enables personal growth through work with Habitat for Humanity and learning experiences focused on the history and culture of a different municipality,” said program advisor Crystal Khoury, leadership coordinator for Associated Students, Inc.
This year’s trip ran from March 27-April 2, but students were required to register last September. The following months were spent fundraising the $1,100 needed for each student to participate, and Khoury organized classes and workshops to prepare the students for the experience. Once at the site, the students spend roughly 32 hours working on homes, and the rest taking in the region’s historic sites and tourist areas.
“There’s value in just being in a different culture,” said Martinez, a Pitman High graduate who took part in a previous Alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans. “And the south is culture shock, but I didn’t experience any judgement or racism toward me.
“We did see some remnants of the civil rights movement, like some of the things Rosa Parks battled with the buses and the segregated water fountains. But the food was great and every person we encountered was hospitable.”
For information about participating in Alternative Spring Break, click here.