A Productive Week

Senior Kyle Blais, a construction engineering major from Frankfort, works on the roof of a Habitat for Humanity home in Fort Lauderdale over spring break.

By Nancy Ridgeway
March 23, 2012

Spring break became a time to serve others for nearly 80 Bradley students who traveled south last week, not for sunny skies and beaches, but to give back.

About 40 students participated in one of two spring break trips: a Fort Lauderdale trip sponsored by the Bradley chapter of Habitat for Humanity and a Pay It Forward tour through the Southeast sponsored by Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF).

Like thousands of college students, senior Brett Williams, a sociology major from West Dundee, and nearly 40 other Bradley students are sporting a Florida suntan. Unlike most, however, these students worked at a Fort Lauderdale Habitat for Humanity housing project.

Williams has participated in Habitat spring break trips all four of his years at Bradley and considers this year’s trip to be the best. As Collegiate Challenge chair, he was responsible for organizing the trip. He was the contact between Habitat for Humanity and the Fort Lauderdale project, worked with the bus company and took care of all other arrangements.

“I want to do fundraising and event planning for a nonprofit, so this is great experience for my goals,” Williams said.

The group worked in a subdivision of Habitat homes, doing everything from landscaping to metal stripping to roof work. The group worked at the subdivision for five hours each day and stayed at a state park located a few minutes from the beach.

Williams said the most rewarding part of the trip was working with homeowners and seeing the difference he and fellow students could make. “I wanted to spend my time productively over spring break. We worked on homes at all different stages of construction. The homeowners were happy and grateful to see college students giving up their time to help.”

Williams is proud that 10 of the students on the trip are members of his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha. He said participants included representatives from five of Bradley’s 14 fraternities and four of its seven sororities.

“I hope that this experience sparks the participants to become involved on our executive board and get involved with Habitat,” Williams said.

“I just want people to become involved in service projects and not take what they have for granted. Not everyone may be able to afford to do this trip, but there are things they can do that will make a difference.

“This was an amazing way to end my time at Bradley. Habitat was the first organization I joined on campus.”

The Pay It Forward tour, Bradley’s first STLF trip, also involved a trip south. The national STLF organization was first formed in 2003 in Minneapolis, and last year, four Bradley students who wanted to do something different for spring break joined an STLF group from Western Illinois University. Brandis Holloway, a nursing major from Springfield, spotted a poster on campus advertising the trip and encouraged three friends to join her: Samantha Babb, a learning behavior major from Belleville; Molly Moriarity, a social studies secondary education major from Lansing; and Lauren Cassidy, a social studies secondary education major from Oak Lawn. They enjoyed the experience so much that they decided to organize a Bradley tour this year.

The Pay It Forward tours involve traveling from city to city, helping nonprofit organizations accomplish their goals. The four students each chose a city, then checked the STLF database to see where students had gone before. Moriarity says, “From there, we called organizations in the community to see who would need our help and who could house us.”

The group stayed in churches and YMCAs and helped organizations with everything from cleaning and organizing to creating a reef of oyster shells off the South Carolina coast.

Babb said, “We did a giant service project with 290 people. We put 600 bags of oyster shells back into the ocean. The shells will create a reef that filters debris from going into the ocean. It keeps the fish healthier, and that will help the economy there.”

She explained the oyster shells were in net bags. The netting will deteriorate, and the shells will fuse together to create the filtering reef.

They worked four hours at a location, ate lunch, then departed for the next town where they followed the same schedule the next day.

Besides making arrangements for service projects, the four students booked a charter bus, arranged for hotels for bus drivers, publicized the tour, recruited participants, raised funds and were involved in every aspect of organizing the trip. The tour attracted freshmen through senior students. Moriarity said, “The national organization told us we will probably get mostly freshmen, but we had a lot of sophomores and juniors.”

Stops included Dyersburg, Tenn., where they helped organize a Salvation Army thrift store and food bank; Greenville, Miss., to volunteer at the Greenville Arts Center; Mobile, Ala., where they cleared an area that will be used as a haunted trail fundraiser in October at a Boys’ and Girls’ Club summer day camp facility; Montgomery, Ala., where they unpacked 700 pounds of food, sorted it and repacked it into snack boxes for a food bank that serves one-third of Alabama; Macon, Ga., to volunteer at the Holy Greek Orthodox Church; and Charleston, S.C., where they worked alongside STLF groups from Illinois State University and Western Illinois University.

The four student leaders planned several “secret stops” during the group’s travels, such as  Lambert’s, “home of thrown rolls,” in Sikeston, Mo., the Civil Rights Museum in Mobile and a trip to the beach while in Charleston.

Babb said, “Doing service projects was great. We could see the impact our participation had in people’s lives. We would reflect on our work and debrief at the end of the day. It was rewarding to see the good we did in communities, but I am really happy that we have created an STLF community at Bradley.

“It is rewarding to see the change this trip made in our participants’ lives and how they are motivated to help in other communities from now on.”

Moriarity said, “Everyone gave it their all, and the result is we have all become great friends. We would like to do some local trips. We feel we can reach out to other groups on campus and get them involved.”