The smell of burning building materials breezing through your hair, squishing mud and saw dust between your boots, and sipping water by the saw horses — this may not sound like the kind of spring break college students are stereotyped to have, though this is exactly what some volunteer students signed up for this year.
Jane Rose Britton, volunteer and community coordinator for the Housing Development Alliance (HDA) in Hazard, said a total of 77 volunteers have come this month from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, the last 10 of which came this week to help with a house raising in Browns Fork and a bathroom renovation in Bulan.
“I really admire these kids because you turn on the TV and you see the kids drinking and doing other things of debauchery,” Britton laughed, “and then you have these kids who work in the snow and mud and rain to help give people a better life.”
The student volunteers are with the Alternative School Break (ASB) Club at Lafayette, which aims “to empower the Lafayette College community to create positive change and foster passion for civic engagement through alternative break exercises,” according to the ASB website. The club offers students a way to help out all over the U.S., and some Central and South American countries as well, by offering service trips during spring break to assist those areas with relief, housing, food, and other needs.
Ryan Crumlish, a volunteer helping in Browns Fork this week, has participated in the club before. Last year he went with a group to Tennessee where they helped local Cherokees build and clean up.
“We built a deck to a senior center, did a children’s thing, we cleared out a forest,” Crumlish said. “I really liked it.”
A “trip reflections” portion of the ASB website is available for volunteers to post their thoughts before, during, and after their break trips. Crumlish posted a reflection the day before coming to Hazard, and said he couldn’t wait to finally be starting the trip with his group.
“I am hopeful that we will have a chance to meet the homeowners and interact with them,” he wrote. “For me, there is nothing that helps me understand what and why I am doing more than talking to the local people. I’ve been waiting for this week for a long time and I can’t wait for it to begin!”
Joe Ingrao, another volunteer at the Browns Fork site who is a first time volunteer with ASB, said he was proud to have a hand in helping put up a whole house for someone in need, even if it meant a lot of hard labor.
“A lot of hammering — today’s the first day I haven’t used a hammer yet, but I’m sure I will by the end of the day. It involves a lot of hammering,” Ingrao said.
A week might seem to fly by for those on spring break, but during this time the volunteer group not only bonded with each other but with the carpenters, too.
“I see these guys every single day,” Britton said.
She said she has developed relationships with the volunteers just as much as they have with the professionals they work with when building or rehabilitating a house.
“Even though they’re not here for long, it still makes an impact,” she said.