A group of six students and one adviser spent a weeklong winter service break working with Habitat for Humanity in Laredo.
They could have spent the last week of their break catching up on Netflix and naps.
Instead, students and staff with the Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement (CALUE) spent that time in service to others. A group of six Texas Tech students and one staff adviser traveled to Laredo for the CALUE winter service break. There, they joined members of Laredo Habitat for Humanity, whose mission is to eliminate substandard housing by building simple, decent and affordable houses for families in need in Laredo and Webb County.
CALUE, part of the Division of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs within the Office of the Provost, offers weeklong service trips for students, faculty and staff during winter, spring and summer campus breaks. By engaging in hands-on, experiential service, students understand the impact they can have on communities and develop a commitment to life-long active citizenship.
Students who participate in the program are also involved in Raiders for Service (RFS), a Texas Tech student organization that provides opportunities to serve in the Lubbock and Texas Tech community. The students help with logistics, meetings and fundraising opportunities leading up to the trips.
"CALUE Service Break participants are from all different majors, ages and backgrounds, and to see them come together for one purpose is amazing," said Jacy Proctor, unit coordinator and adviser. "They come together to learn and serve, and while they learn so much from each other, they learn even more from the community they are serving."
After an eight-hour drive and an orientation meeting with members of Habitat for Humanity and other local organizations, the winter service break participants were ready to begin. They arrived at the neighborhood site the following morning.
"We worked on two houses in a neighborhood where most of the homes were Habitat for Humanity houses," said student site leader Carlos Acosta. "One of the houses we were working on was almost completely done, it just needed cleaning on the outside and furnishing on the inside."
"When we got there, the only thing that was up was the frame of the house," said Lorena Posadas, president of Raiders for Service. "It was just pieces of wood dividing the house into bedrooms, the kitchen, closets and other spaces. We helped with fire-blocking, which was putting pieces of wood diagonally between other horizontal and vertical pieces."
One of the big projects CALUE participants worked on was a shed located behind the house. They were able to build the structure from floor to roof. Everyday activities included landscaping and unloading equipment and materials.
Through it all, the Habitat for Humanity workers and members of the Aguilar family worked side by side with students.
"One of the most impactful aspects of the trip was the staff and family members we were helping were just very genuine and open with us," Acosta said. "It felt less like we were actually working and more like we were doing something worthwhile. We were just very excited to help where we could."
The experience also allowed the students to grow in unexpected ways.
"A few of us were overcoming our fears of using the tools we had never used before. One student was afraid to use a nail gun," Posadas said. "But the next day, she tried it and then didn't allow anyone else to use it. We talked about how we were overcoming our fears as we were working."
Laredo's proximity to the Texas-Mexico border meant some of the group also dealt with language barriers; Raiders for Service vice president Alexandria Cathey said it didn't really have a negative impact on their experience.
"Luckily for us, roughly half of our team was able to understand and converse in Spanish," Cathey said. "While we could not all communicate with our words, we were able to communicate in many different ways with the few volunteers who did not speak English. Everyone was a good sport and there was a lot of translation happening along with laughter and the learning of different languages."
During the group's time in Laredo, Acosta said they ate together, worked together and rested together. Being in such close proximity for five days allowed participants to form friendships not just within their group but also with the Habitat for Humanity workers, other volunteer groups and the Aguilar family.
"My favorite part of the trip was how everyone bonded," Acosta said. "The last day we were there, they threw a wonderful little fiesta for us."
Each of the two families brought a homemade dish, he said, while other volunteers prepared more than enough food for everyone at the site. The group spent the last night playing games, dancing and talking.
"It was like that every day, we were bonding with everyone," Acosta said. "Everyone really took something away from it – from the homeowners to the volunteers. It was a beautiful thing."
This wasn't the first trip for Acosta, Cathey or Posadas. Past service breaks included a trip to Dallas to help provide food and clothing to those who needed it at the Crossroads Community Center, a trip to New Orleans where CALUE partnered with Project Homecoming to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, and a trip to Waco where students worked with World Hunger Relief to raise awareness of global hunger.
"Each trip is a unique experience because location, team members and objective are all trip specific," said Cathey, whose experiences include the trip to Waco. "A huge part of the trip was to push those who were there into action, which is also what CALUE and Raiders for Service emphasize to student participants."
The CALUE Service Breaks program began offering trips in 2014. CALUE will travel to Grand Canyon National Park during spring break (March 11-17) where participants will work on various projects related to environmental conservation and the importance of state and national parks.
CALUE will head to Costa Rica May 22-31 to work with United Planet for the program's first international trip. The focus will be on sea turtle conservation and protecting nests from human poachers and beach erosion.
Posadas said students who are considering joining a service break trip should make the jump. They'll gain more than just a chance to travel.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to go, but I am so glad I went," Posadas said. "You just never know what you're going to gain from these trips – it could be a new skill you learned or a new friendship. A lot of times we think we're going to serve someone else, but it's almost like they're doing more for us."