Alternative Spring Break

By Jessica Gutfleish ’14, Caitlin O’Connor ’14

Jessica Gutfleish '14
Wilmington, NC

If you are like me, after two-and-a-half years on the Hill, you start to realize that going home is great for only a few days. You get caught up on sleep and TV and eat your mom’s food, only to then realize you really miss Hamilton. Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is the perfect solution to this problem. On ASB, you get one week of spring break to relax, sleep and get your hair cut, and then another full week of community service alongside some fantastic Hamiltonians.

I went on ASB for the first time last year and instantly fell in love. Not only did I experience some eye-opening community service opportunities but also got to know a group of students whom I might never have met otherwise. This year, I got to lead a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina to do volunteer service work at a children’s museum, a soup kitchen and Dreams, a program that provides underprivileged children with the opportunity to receive a top-of-the-line arts education (including a variety of visual and performance arts).

In doing community service, you discover as much about yourself as you do others, and it really puts your own life into perspective. At the soup kitchen, residents shared with us stories of hope and faith, how they strongly believed things would get better, even though their current situation was bleak. In hearing their stories, I began to realize what I have and all the things for which I am grateful.

One of the most important aspects of community service is being able to reflect upon your experiences at the end of each day. Every night over dinner, my group would discuss the high and low points of the day and our interactions with the community. In addition to all the service work we did, we had a whole lot of fun. My group was extremely lucky to stay at a house right on the beach, which we definitely took advantage of! We also got to do some exploring around downtown Wilmington.

I think what makes ASB so incredible is the opportunity to meet new people and grow with them as a group through your experiences. I am not talking about just sitting in a jitney for 13 hours. In working together to improve the community, you learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to work through challenges. I left ASB not only feeling grateful for what I have but also quite lucky to have had the experience to work with such inspirational and amazing new people.

While volunteering at the museum, the question most frequently asked by children’s parents was, “You chose to do service work in Wilmington instead of going to the beach like most college students?” I responded to them with a confident “Yes,” saying that I would not have wanted to spend my spring break any other way.


Caitlin O'Connor '14
Meridian, MS

Would you rather return to the Hill saying you had just another ordinary spring break or an awe-inspiring, stunning break?!

During my first year at Hamilton, I decided to participate in the Alternative Spring Break program as an opportunity to travel somewhere warm instead of hibernating on a couch in chilly New England. I was placed on a Habitat for Humanity trip, and, as they say, my life was changed forever.

The unique aspect of Habitat for Humanity is that, in addition to bettering the community, it also betters the volunteer. It is well known that Hamilton excels at teaching us how to write and communicate effectively, however we often look past the way it improves our abilities outside academia. On ASB, I have learned countless real-world skills, including how to hammer a nail, use a drill bit and even hang and caulk drywall. After my rewarding first-year experience, I decided to become an ASB leader the following year and joined the E-Board this past fall.

This year, after an 18-hour jitney ride traversing nine states, my group and I finally arrived in Meridian, Mississippi, our home for the week. We met Fonda, our site coordinator, and learned about the goals of the program and what we would be working on for the following five days. Because we hit Mississippi on a rainy week, we ended up helping out with a lot of side projects, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen and painting apartments in a halfway house.

While at first I was disappointed about not getting as much construction experience as I had had in the past, it ended up being a very fulfilling experience. We got to meet a lot of people from the local area, allowing us to see the more personal impact we were making on the daily lives of Meridian’s citizens.

On Wednesday we got the chance to visit our site, the house put aside specifically for college volunteer groups. Since our spring break was on the later side, the house was near completion and we were assigned to finish the exterior work. A trio of us painted some cement stairs while the rest of the group worked on landscaping the front yard to allow the laying of a brick walkway.

For the first time in my ASB experience, we got a full day off from volunteering, and on Thursday ,we decided to venture three hours south to explore New Orleans, Louisiana. Although we did not have much money to spend, we managed to do a lot of exploring, taking in the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. The food was—of course—delicious, including beignets at the famous Café au Monde and even some alligator at a local sports bar.

I should add that southern hospitality is most definitely a thing, and besides meeting some of the friendliest people in the country, I have also had some of the most mouth-watering meals of my life. From catfish deep-fried in front of my eyes to delicious southern barbeque, my taste buds have certainly enjoyed ASB as much as the rest of me!

My favorite part of Alternative Spring Break by far is the amazing people I have met. Along with countless locals that have left an imprint on my life forever, I have had the opportunity to get to know over two dozen Hamilton students with whom I had never interacted before ASB. After spending a week living and working alongside each other, we came to bond in a deeper way than within a classroom environment or the weekend social scene.

I would highly recommend Habitat for Humanity for any and every Hamilton student, as it provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn the ins and outs of homebuilding while also bonding with your Hamilton peers.


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