Breaking out of norms for Alternative Spring Break


Senior Reporter

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Doptis

Wielding sledgehammers, sporting flannel shirts and sleeping in church pews are not ways most students spent their spring break. 

But this year, two different groups at Oakland University partnered with Habitat for Humanity for an alternative spring break.

An alternative spring break usually involves college students spending their spring break doing volunteer activities, such as building homes in communities abroad, rather than typical spring break fare.

The OU group Alternative Spring Break was one of the two groups that got involved by going to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina to help build a home with Habitat for Humanity. During their stay, they were hosted by the Isle of Palms Baptist Church. Jennifer Doptis, a special education major, was one of the members who went.

Doptis and 11 other students spent four days in South Carolina working on a house for a single mother, doing things like digging up and pouring cement for the driveway and sanding and painting the interior and exterior of the house. Each week was a different university’s turn to help out.

One of the biggest projects the group undertook was the building of the driveway.

“It was amazing starting with a pile of dirt and ending up with a driveway,” Doptis said.

Doptis said she remembered she and the other students standing around with shovels waiting to spread the concrete as a huge truck backed up to the driveway.

Alternative spring break participant Janelle Arbuckle, a political science and international relations major, was also moved by the trip.

The group also had to get up on ladders and paint all the walls of the house. Arbuckle said that painting the entire house was one of the more tedious aspects of the job, but also rewarding.

“It made you want to work harder,” Arbuckle said.

Arbuckle said they worked from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at which point they would sometimes go into Charleston for dinner, but little else. “By the time we got done, we were dead tired,” she said.

In spite of all the hard work, Doptis said she would jump at the chance to do it a second time.

“I’d do it again in a second,” she said.

Doptis and Arbuckle both spoke of the memories they had of working on the house. Doptis said that some senior citizens who would come by and help Habitat for Humanity regularly were great fun to be around.

She also said that working on the house for a single mother helped remind her of what’s important. She said she saw how hard the mother was working to help.

“It was a very humbling experience,” Doptis said.

But one of the things they did get to do was go on a “ghost tour” of Charleston, which highlighted places in the city said to be haunted.

A completely different alternative spring break was put together by OU’s own Habitat for Humanity group, which went to build a home in New Mexico. Like the Alternative Spring Break group, student Lisa Egle said they also stayed in a church, sleeping on the pews at night.

Egle, one of the students who participated in the Habitat for Humanity trip, said that they worked on a home, building a roof and preparing walls to be plastered. She said that their supervisor, named Ricky Martin, read the group humorous safety speeches during their breaks.

Egle said Habitat for Humanity also helped wire electricity for the house with the assistance of an electrician, Melecio, who taught them to speak Spanish as well.

Like the members of the other Alternative Spring Break group, Egle said that one of the most rewarding parts of the trip for her was meeting the woman who was going to live in the house.

“After meeting her, I found myself working even harder than I already had been because I wanted everything to be so perfect for her and her two daughters,” Egle said.

Like Doptis and Arbuckle, Egle also had a memory from a senior citizen, an old man named Carl who imparted to her the bit of wisdom: “Always wear flannel! Live your life.”

Egle said there was little to do after they finished working.

“Though the area was essentially deserted, there was such a peace during each and every workday. There’s absolutely nothing like being able to turn around and see the most gorgeous mountains behind you. It was so surreal and picture perfect,” she said.

The Habitat for Humanity group also had a day specifically set aside to relax, where according to Egle, they had the choice between going hiking or going snowboarding and skiing. Egle said she went skiing for her very first time.

Habitat for Humanity will be raising money for another build project called Youth United beginning with a Mongolian Barbecue Night fundraiser on March 11.

According to Habitat for Humanity president Jenna Bourdeau, work on the Youth United build will begin in 2010. Tickets to the Mongolian Barbecue fundraiser will be sold on March 10.