Alternative Spring Break

Anusha Datar '21 & Grace Montagnino '21

One of the activities many Oliners pursue is community service - giving back to others reflects many of our values. Our community service organization on campus, SERV (Supporting, Encouraging, and Recognizing Volunteerism), helps facilitate volunteering both generally over the semester and over breaks. One of those offerings is the Alternative Spring Break (ASB). This year, ASB was a Habitat for Humanity trip in Exmore, VA. In lieu of vacationing, returning home, or staying on campus, nine Oliners chose to take advantage of this opportunity, including both of us.

Oliners at Habitat for Humanity

Grace '21 and Anusha '21 (middle two students in front row, left to right)

Habitat for Humanity on the Eastern Shore of Virginia has been active for over twenty years, and they have built over forty-five homes. The house we worked on over ASB, the forty-sixth, was well on its way to completion. While on site, we put up sheetrock to make walls, spackled fasteners and seams, cut out the attic and installed a ladder to access it, and shoveled dirt. Every morning, we would make breakfasts in the kitchen of the church we were staying at, and pack bag lunches before leaving for the site at 8:30. When we would arrive on site, one of the four site managers would brief us on what needed to be done and how to go about it. After that, one of our crew members would play some interesting music, and the rest of us would get to work. Around noon, we would break for lunch and swap stories with the site managers, other volunteers, and future homeowners of Habitat for Humanity homes. This was an especially valuable experience - in addition to our conversations with people onsite, on Wednesday night the church was kind enough to welcome us into their weekly fellowship dinner. We got to meet local community members, talk to Habitat for Humanity homeowners and facilitators, and learn about a community very different from ours (though, in an effort to spread out, some of us ended up at the kids’ table, so there we reaffirmed our suspicions that toddlers say ridiculous things regardless of where they are). After lunch, we’d excitedly get back on the job (especially if we were spackling, our group REALLY liked spackling). As we worked, we noted and enjoyed the direct connection to our Olin education - we learned by doing, made mistakes, and had a great time. Some highlights include spackling the seams of the house, which was exciting because so much spackle, us (Grace and Anusha) putting a wall on backwards and immediately having to unscrew and fix it, falling off of ladders, spraying ice-cold water at each other when cleaning equipment, and getting way too excited about finding ladybugs.

After working for the day, we still had plenty of time to go on adventures. Without much internet access or cell phone signal, we had to get creative. We started simple: hiking, enjoying the National Parks in the area, playing basketball at the church, and making Toll House cookies. As the week went on, we advanced into visiting Alpaca farms (and making yarn with their fur, which one of our team members knitted into small keepsakes), playing intense games of frisbee with the lid of the cookie dough bucket, creating new sports based on the equipment we were able to find in the church yard, and coming up with exciting new food combinations based on the resources we had (peanut butter and cheese, anyone? Ask Mark Goldwater about it, because none of us get that one either). On our day off, we traveled into Chincoteague Island (for those that aren’t familiar this is a beautiful national reserve with wild ponies). Once we got there, we ventured into the marshes to see some ponies. Also, while we were there, in typical Oliner fashion, we visited the NASA center at Wallops Island. We ended the week watching the sunset together over the water.

Mark making cookies.

Mark Goldwater '21 making cookies.

In addition to having fun and working hard, one of the experiences we had over this trip was surviving outside of the Olin Bubble. Traveling with Oliners is always an experience - whether it be doing airport yoga or getting stopped by the TSA a statistically significant number of times, exciting things are always bound to happen. As part of Habitat, we were able to sleep on the floor of a local church and use their kitchen, so this meant grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and a giant sleepover every single night. We really enjoyed getting to cook together and reflecting on our days each night, and we also had some interesting patches- Grace would like to call out Ashlee for stealing her pillow and Abby for struggling to understand how hot water works. Working so closely with new people and also bonding with our own group made the trip an enlightening and enjoyable experience. Even when you take the Oliners out of the machine shops and amenities of Olin College and place them in rural Virginia, the Olin spirit prevails.

Posted in: Anusha '21, Grace '21