On Feb. 29, several students (including myself), headed off to spend their Spring Break in Memphis, Tenn. However, this trip was no ordinary trip. The group was about to embark on an Alternative Spring Break.
Now, for those of you have no idea what that phrase means, let me enlighten you. We volunteered to spend our five-day break helping others. This did not mean that was all we did, but it did mean we had a lot of hard work ahead of us.
The voyage began with a drive for food and coffee, before spanning out for seven more hours in one of Piedmont’s vans. The three rows of seats held eight students with an extra in the passenger’s seat. Most of us had never met, but it was still cozy enough to sleep most the ride. Music filled that first-meeting silence. However, before long, that was not necessary. It was just another tool to bond—bond by singing that is.
We stayed at a type of place that I had no idea even existed—a hostel. It was a place that was a mixture of a house and a hotel with bunk beds, private and shared bathrooms, a small library area and a nice kitchen. It was also part of a church, which helped keep it up and running. There we met Danny, the manager of the hostel, who was an all-around great host. We also met two really awesome travelers: a Belgium woman named Lisbeth and Australian Rob. I was also able to make pancakes for the first time there and find a new passion for traveling.
Day one of the service brought the group to GrowMemphis. They are an organization that builds gardens to improve a community’s production of fresh foods. Mrs. Jacqueline was our leader for the day, tasking us with building bird houses from scratch and working in her garden. The smell of compost was not the best, but it was a great way to get to know each other. We all talked over the work, while also making sure to work together.
Day two of the service trip had us working with the less fortunate. Our first spot was the St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen. We began our work there by separating clothes by male, female and children. It was surprising to hear that mostly men come to that location, and the only clothes coming in seemed to be smaller children. After, we were able to begin to serve soup, sandwiches and other things to the homeless. They were very thankful and kind, which shocked me. I had been costumed to hearing and believing only the worst of the homeless. I was also able to meet the man running the soup kitchen portion of the facility. His name was Ron, and he spoke of how he got involved in helping his community.
His son was diagnosed with two brain tumors as a small child. One of them was intertwined with his brain stem, making it impossible for the doctors to operate. They were told that he was probably going to die. Ron and his family put their faith in their religion.
Miraculously, the tumor, after many surgeries, was able to dislodge itself from the boy’s brain stem without leaving any particles behind. Unfortunately, last year, the tumors came back. He was given little movement of his body, but he persevered. He wanted to raise $1,000 for every year St. Jude’s gave his son. His goal was $28,000. He raised $700,500. His son died last year around the holidays. Instead of tearing up, like most the students out there with him, Ron smiled. “At least I got 28 years with him,” he said.
After the inspiring morning, we were bussed back to the hostel to go down into the church’s kitchen to help with lunch. The luncheon doubled as a food bank donation time that had many people streaming in to grab not only warm lunches but also their week’s food. I was a greeter and met so many of the gracious people. It reminded me that I am blessed to be who I am and have what I have.
On the third day of service, we went to Sacred Heart Disaster Relief to help clean up a house that had been demolished by a recent tornado in Mississippi. We were able to pick up a great portion of the rubble and broken memories, but it did not look like we made
much of a dent. The damage had wiped out the whole foundation, leaving behind pictures, beams, bricks and so many other lost treasures. It was heartbreaking. However, the hard labor had most of us wishing we could just poof it all away. Not to mention, the mud and wet of the land we were on. However, we continued on and even worked past our expected time. We may have passed out on the ride back to Tennessee, but no one can say they were lazy that day.
Now, let’s get on to the fun of the trip. We were able to visit the Memphis Zoo on the very first day. A lot of us saw a giraffe give birth. We were able to tour the Civil Rights Museum that would make anyone question what they see as a ‘norm.’ Not to mention, it housed the building that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Along with that, we were able to go through a second exhibit that held an investigation into who shot and killed MLK.
Six of the ten were able to attend an NBA basketball game that same night. For almost all of that group, it was our first time. We were also on ESPN behind the anchors of the pregame report with a Piedmont College sign.
Now, let us go into shopping. I was able to find the greatest coffee house ever. Java Cabana had so many unique coffee choices that it was hard to decide on what I wanted. I tried two very different drinks: one called ‘Chocolate Dream’ and the other ‘Romana’. Chocolate Dream tasted like a chocolate bar with orange flecks encased within. The Romana was homemade chocolate milk with whipped cream and sprinkles named after a little girl. The staff was the sweetest, and the prices were unbeatable. I was also able to slip into a wonderful little bookshop, which carried so many books that I thought I was losing my mind. The displays on the inside were quirky and simple, giving it a creative D.I.Y. vibe. Another really interesting place to shop in Memphis was the pyramid Bass Pro Shop that was fulling decked out and just all around humongous and outrageous.
The whole point of the service days was to help and reflect. I had to not only do the work but also think about why and what it meant to me. My opinions were blown out of the water, as I was able to meet so many new people and see how some people have to live. It brought a new perspective on what I see myself doing in the future to help my community. It also made me want to continue to travel and see what I can do to help others. This trip also gave me a new set of ‘family’ that will always be remembered. We will always have the memories of this incredible time. I could not have seen this trip going any other way without everyone. So, I just want to take a moment to thank: Kenny Hearn, Shayna Healy, Tabea Soelter, Lizbeth Aguilera, Scott Eckard, Lauren Patrick, Maya Driver and Rachel Danford for all their hard work, friendliness and dedication. I would also like to extend a thank you to Kim Crawford, Dean Petit and Brittany Kinard for their helping hands. Kriston Haynes was the heart and soul of planning and just being our mom away from home. She put together this whole trip, so I would like to say a special thank you to her for being the greatest. All and all, this was an amazing trip. I cannot wait to see where next year’s will bring me.