Marist College Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge Build 2013: The Experience of a Lifetime

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“Our trip to Arkansas this year invited all of us to leave what we thought we knew behind and immerse ourselves in a week long trip to serve others. While this tangible goal was accomplished, what we took away from our experience cannot be measured in inches of shingles or feet of sheetrock. The twenty-seven of us sacrificed for those we did not know, and for each other, and drew us together as a community in ways that no one could have predicted. People say in order to find yourself, you should lose yourself in the service of others. I think it’s safe to say that this holds true for us this past week. We have had the experience of a lifetime and that, like the houses we helped build, will never go away.” -Elle Gordon ’14 (Treasurer)

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We boarded the airplane that cool Saturday morning as individuals seeking to help others in need. Little did we realize that we would emerge as not just the closest of friends, but as a family. There’s a certain magic that inevitably happens when people come together in order to improve the lives of others. Working with our hands, using power tools, climbing up on a couple of roofs, and using hammers and nails—are all things we expected. What we didn’t expect is how twenty-four college kids and three moderators could grow together after living in close quarters for an eight-day period. We didn’t prepare for how we would huddle together and pass around hot chocolate during some cold Arkansas mornings. We didn’t anticipate how we would sit in circles and play childhood bonding games instead of staring at our cell phones and computers. We couldn’t predict how we learned to share everything—showers, bathrooms, food, sleeping space, seats, couches, vans, tools, and just about everything else. Most of all, however, we shared ourselves. We shared stories, recounted memories, and made new ones that we will forever cherish. We followed a trail into Arkansas and then left one of our own leading out. We set out to leave our mark upon Arkansas; upon returning home, we were humbled of realize the extent to which it left its mark upon us.

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Freshman student and first-time Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge builder, Shannon McCormack, offers her perspective about the trip down South, “The decision to go on this trip was the best decision I have made at Marist. Some people we talk to look at this amazing opportunity as us ‘giving up’ our spring break, but in actuality it was the best way to spend this week off! The memories we made, adventures we went on, and friendships we formed hold a special place in my heart. We may have worked all week but it never once felt like a job or hard labor. We were always having a great time no matter what we were doing. It is even more fulfilling to know that we were helping out fellow neighbors in Arkansas create a place they can call home. This was an experience that will stick with me forever! If only it had not gone by in the blink of an eye.”

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Although he is admittedly sad that his final trip has come and gone, graduating senior Tom Plowinske expresses how impressed he was with the effort given by the group, “In the months leading up to the trip, there was a certain level of commitment and dedication required from each and every participant on our trip. Without the proper attitudes and preparation by all of us, this whole trip would never have been so fulfilling and successful. But looking back, I realize that I had nothing to worry about–these are some of the most caring and amazing people I have ever been lucky enough to work alongside, and I could not be more proud of what we were able to accomplish down in Fort Smith, Arkansas.”

Marist builders would agree that the trip was not just a physical displacement, but a spiritual journey. In Arkansas, we found more than just Southern hospitality and fried food. We found more than piles of wood, paint, tools, and the groundwork of a construction project in progress. We found ourselves, and we found each other. We met amazing people who inspired us to believe in the beauty of life. We found strength to continue on when the wind blew strongest and the cold nipped at our cheeks. We put aside our personal agendas long enough to replace the roof of a man with terminal cancer. We saw the gratitude on the faces of the smiling homeowners who paid us a surprise visit one afternoon. We gave much to Arkansas, but we received even more in return. We held onto the satisfaction of knowing that through our combined efforts we accomplished something great, something utterly beautiful: making the lives of others just a little bit brighter. We share among us a feeling of honor and blessing to have had the opportunity to reach out to those who needed us most, and we couldn’t be more grateful for what they gave us.

Though invisible and intangible, we carried with us through the airport home something that could not fit into our luggage. We traveled back to chilly Poughkeepsie with heavy hearts, not because of a torn up boots and a long day of traveling, but because our journey was coming to an end.

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How do you capture a week of friendship, a week of surprises, a week of laughs, joys, and memories in a moment? You stop to breathe the air while you can. You take all of the pictures your camera can hold. You eat the food and experience the culture of where you are. You listen to music, sing and dance together. You keep a journal. You help someone who needs you. You remember to be a friend, a soul mate, a confidant, a hero, a leader, and an inspiration to all around you. Most importantly, you never forget to smile and to be thankful for what you have, where you’ve been and where you are. It is the past that molds the present, and the present that sets the future into motion. If all of us could reconcile ourselves to perform just one act of goodness, of selflessness, of service in our lives, wouldnt the world be such a better place? Build a wonderful life for others, and you will subconsciously create one for yourself. If the Earth is our construction site, then we are all workers. We say, build on!

By: Katie Gillick and Tom Plowinske

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