Monday, March 10, 2014

Wow is the only word that comes to mind when trying to wrap up this INCREDIBLE experience. We came into this trip hoping to serve and do good for a week, and left with a whole new outlook on justice, relationships, and community. The list of things we learned and ways that our hearts were changed goes on and on.

Working with Habitat for Humanity provided us with a deep appreciation for the importance of affordable housing and how it transforms so many lives. Habitat for Humanity has changed neighborhoods from bad to good, and people from good to even better. On Friday evening we were able to attend a dinner that the Habitat families (those families working towards a Habitat home) made for us. It was really wonderful to hear the stories of these families and how they got involved with Habitat. The meal was great too :)!  It made all of the hard work that much more rewarding knowing that we were helping these families who are so deserving of a great home. This is what Habitat is all about!

The learning was endless this week. The wonderful Habitat crew that we worked with gave us a plethora of construction knowledge. We learned how to do so many new things and we are so grateful! Not only did we acquire new skills, but we were able to be in solidarity with the community and form strong relationships with each other.

Even though the trip has come to an end, the real journey is just beginning. Each of us now has 12 new family members along with a heart full of the willingness to be with people by serving people. This experience has caused a spark in all of us to move forward by being aware and educated of what is happening around us, and by being willing to help those that are in need of it.

All that is left to say now is thank you! Thank you to God for our ability to learn and for our hearts to be changed. Thank you to all of you for following along on our journey. Thank you to all of the wonderful new people that we have met and all of the bonds that we have formed with them. Thank you to the Coastal Fairfield County Habitat for Humanity for so graciously taking us in and providing us with the experience of a lifetime.



Our last shot of the group as we stopped and had our final reflection at Seaside Park on our way out of Bridgeport.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Time is flying by way too quickly!  The common theme each and every one of us is speaking is how we are so sad that this trip is almost over.  As stated before, we love learning new skills, meeting new people, and giving our time to others.  Our beliefs and opinions have been challenged and influenced by the things we have seen and experienced.  

Instead of expounding upon the physical labor that we are doing, I want to try to explain the dynamics of our small, 13-member community.  At the end of each day, we have a time of reflection.  Bryton prepared some extraordinary exercises that made us reflect upon what social justice is and how we, as individuals, can make a difference.  We end it with each person reflecting upon three things about that day--our highest moment, our lowest moment, and when we felt closest to God.  That simple exercise completely transformed our group.  The expression of personal thoughts created an atmosphere of love and harmony.

The immediate bonding that was created by our time of reflection began on Sunday.  Sharing the high moments of the day often meant the group erupting into peals of laughter that made our stomachs hurt or we would have tears in our eyes because our hearts were overflowing with love.  During the low moments our true selves were revealed to others.  We were able to share some of the deepest pains and moments of hurts or sorrow and, in response, the whole group saw pieces of each other that we never knew existed.  The moments closest to God was sobering and inspiring as we got to see how God moved and dealt with us in distinct, personal ways.  

As time progressed throughout the week, each night got better and was the highlight of our day.  We became more and more comfortable about sharing our feelings, and with that came the ability for us as a whole group to cry together.  Thursday night had the most impact on each of us, and it was during that time that we realized we weren't just a group of Habitat volunteers from Gannon University, but we are a family that has grown to love each other deeply in only five days of time.  The depth of emotion we have experienced has transformed our hearts and will have life-long effects.












Thursday, March 6, 2014


Today was again a WONDERFUL day!  As usual

We went to the habitat warehouse for our usual morning meeting.  However, today had an interesting twist - we were split up into three small groups to all go work on different homes throughout Bridgeport.  This split was a window of opportunity for us to not only practice our newly learned skills but to also work closely with people we might not have worked with before.  The first group went to install fiberglass insulation into a basement - a very itchy task, but of course made extremely fun with the help of habitat’s wonderful painter, Jacques!  Another group worked hard in a couple homes installing spray insulation – or should I say worked hard for two entire hours trying to unplug the insanely long hose.  Although they spent so much time trying to get this hose unplugged, I heard no complaints once we were reunited at the end of the day.  They instead kept talking about all the crazy ways they tried unplugging it – you can tell that our group is growing in a positive fashion through turning all these negatives into a positive.  Our other group continued to lay the last bit of that super fun, splinter causing luan (plywood) in the house we have been working on this entire week.  At the end of our day, we even got to meet the home owners for this house!  Meeting these individuals really helped us realize why we are out here in Connecticut.  These people are walking in the home with that special sparkle in their eye – a sparkle that shows their excitement and eagerness to actually live in their own home.  These future homeowners are no longer seeing all the tools and ladders scattered everywhere, but imagining their own kitchen table with everyone they love sitting around it, laughing and making memories. 
 

Coming to Bridgeport has us not only building homes, but building relationships.  Yes, I had to throw in that corny line but it is beyond true!  It has only been five days, but I feel as if I am making friendships that have the potential to last a lifetime.  Tonight in reflection I realized we truly are connecting to one another, like a little crazy family.  With each passing day we become closer, acting as if we have known each other for years.   I know we all came here hoping to meet some pretty amazing people, but I am sure not one of us expected to feel so much love from people we barely know.  At reflection, a few of us shared some really deep information; I swear there wasn’t a dry eye in our living room.  This shows our trust in each other, our love for one another. 

Day five, and we are a family.  A big fun, loud, amazing family.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Today was our first experience on a Habitat work site.  This wasn't the traditional home that is started from scratch and built from ground up, but it is a home that Habitat has taken and revitalized.  They call it ReHab.

Not only did we meet the Habitat employees, but we worked with two Habitat homeowners.  Meeting and talking with them was a highlight of our day, simply because the reason we are here is for the people of Bridgeport.  It's not only about the work experience, but it is about getting involved in peoples' lives and making a difference.  It was rewarding to meet with people who have been blessed and whose lives have been changed by Habitat for Humanity.

A favorite homeowner is Dale.  His openness and sincerity allowed us to get close to him and become fast friends.  During our lunch break he entertained us with stories about his life, his children, and why he chose Habitat.  He is a Jamaican immigrant who came to Bridgeport when he was young.  After spending time in the military, he wanted to come back home, but the high cost of living caused him to live at poverty level.  Habitat enabled him to stay in the area and lead a successful life in his hometown.

The Gannon team was split into two work groups.  One group spent the whole day painting the entire upstairs of the home.  The other group laid luan, which is a thin type of plywood and serves as a backer for tile.  They took turns working the saw and gluing and stapling the tile down. The Habitat staff who were helping us (Aaron, Jaq, and Larry) were extremely great teachers and were so helpful. They really broadened many of us our skill-sets. We are very excited to see what tasks we are handed this week and are looking forward to continue to working with Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Megan and Perdita, our Americorp Vistas, took a lot of time out of their day to show us around Bridgeport!

Before we went to the Habitat warehouse, we toured a few of the Habitat homes in Bridgeport. We heard the story of one of woman, an Iraq veteran, who became disabled while on tour. Habitat was able to provide a home for her family. It was actually the first time her family had ever fully lived together - because of economic issues before, her and her children had always been split up prior.

Eventually we went to the Habitat warehouse, where we'll be meeting each morning before we go to the build sites. There we met all the people that work with Habitat in Bridgeport, most notably, Tall Bob. Bob is denoted as Tall because at the warehouse, there is another Bob. To avoid confusion, his name is Suspenders Bob. Anyway, Tall Bob is 89 years old! It's so inspiring to see someone giving back at that age.

We also heard about the volunteers from Youth United and their work with Habitat. You have to be at least sixteen to volunteer at a Habitat work site - so kids from Youth United come in and build shelves for the homes. Not only that, the volunteer that collaborated with Habitat recently raised $150,000 for Habitat - enough to fully fund the building operations for a Habitat home! We all really want to meet them, so hopefully we'll be able to work with them by the end of the week.

We also went to the University of Bridgeport and met Jennifer, the coordinator for their Alternative Break Service Trips. She told us her story of getting involved in Bridgeport's community. She candidly spoke to us about what she believed to be the real causes of poverty - it was very eyeopening.

We also visited the Rescue Mission where Gail, a former Bridgeport-Habitat employee, enlightened us about what they offer to Bridgeport's community. The Rescue Mission is a non-profit organization that provides an incredible amount of meals to the impoverished. In 2012 alone, they gave out an incredible 556,000 individual meals to the people of Bridgeport. They're also a rehabilitation center - they take in homeless men and women who are willing to give up their former lifestyles for a clean and honest living. Some of the men who are in the program spoke to us very openly about their life experiences, how they ended up at the Rescue Mission, and how they're working to turn their life around.

After dinner (Tacos, thanks Tonia, Val, and Bryton!!!) we went to see the city of Greenwich. (I think some group members are planning to write to the Oxford dictionary to get the pronunciation changed to what they believe is the right way - Green-WITCH. It is pronounced Grenich, come on people!) We've had an incredible time getting to know each other, and the van ride over was probably indicative of that. It was just so much fun, and we're all becoming really comfortable with each other! Seeing Greenwich was interesting. The homes were extravagant - some of them 'MTV Cribs' level. It's incredible that these homes, these people of such a high socioeconomic status, are just 25 miles away from the incredibly impoverished area that we're working at in Bridgeport.

At Reflection, we talked about what we can do better to achieve the Catholic mission of social justice. There is a distinct difference between charity and social justice. Charity is simply the act of service - literally volunteering at shelters or food pantries. Social justice is more complex; it's the act of making real social change and not only solving the temporary problem of a single individual, but actually solving the problem so that people won't fall victim to social circumstances out of their control. We talked a lot about today's experiences, and discussed what we can hope to do, if not now, but in the future, to achieve real social justice. Ultimately, there is obviously no one answer to solve these large social issues. Yet, we all now understand that there is more to service than the literal act of charity. This week, we'll be able to look at the issues in Bridgeport through a lens that will ask us not only how we can help while we're here, but what we can learn from this experience in order to make our world a better place.



Seaside park, just a mile away from where we are staying in Bridgeport!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

First Day

We have arrived!  Our day was filled with fun, laughter and sharing as we traveled 493 miles.

One of the main highlights of today was our lunch at Circle E.  Steven and Evan put several minutes of research into finding a place to eat our lunch.  Steven discovered a unique review about a small diner in Hancock, NY.

"I dont give out 5 stars too frequently, heck none of us should. Cuz lets be honest, if everyone is a 5 star.....then NO ONE is a 5 star! I am sure my social-scientist liberal friends would have an opinion or two about that but we'll save those rants cocktail parties, shall we?

The reason I am giving 5 stars to Circle E is for the coveted "X-Factor"! Now for those who dont know what I am talking about, the X-Factor is that special pinch of magic, that wonderful variable that kicks the whole equation over the top. Its the intangible element so crucial to a human experience whose impact ultimately results in a mass far greater than the sum of its parts."


After a review like that, how could we pass up a chance to experience the Circle E?  We were not disappointed!  

We were graciously welcomed by our three new friends--Megan, Miguel and Perdita.  Megan and Perdita are AmeriCorps Vistas that specifically work with the local Habitat for Humanities affiliate.  We are staying with them in a habitat house and they will be our guides for the week.

Tomorrow we shall tour some of the habitat houses and other non-profit facilities in Bridgeport.  Tonia is excited about meeting the director of the local food pantry which provides food for 5,000 people each night. 

Bryon is looking forward to having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day this week.

We are looking forward to what this next week holds.  Keep tuning in!
 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Trip is Almost Here!

WOW! The trip is only two weeks away and we cannot believe it. We have been hard at work preparing ourselves for what is to come! In the midst of all the craziness, everyone took some time to write out why they chose to come on this trip, what they are excited about and nervous about, and what they hope to gain from this experience. Enjoy!


Amanda

I chose to come on the trip because I was already a part of Habitat for Humanity at Gannon, and I thought it would be a great experience.

I'm nervous about doing well with the actual build itself. I've never really done anything like this before, so it should be interesting!

I hope to gain a new understanding of the situation in Bridgeport, Connecticut and make a positive impact upon it.


Benjamin

I used to be a carpenter by schooling. That being said, I have not been able to work on a jobsite since I came back to college a year and a half ago. When I saw that I had the chance not only to get back to work but also help people while I was at it, I jumped at the chance.
Now that I have spent a couple of hours getting to know this group, I must say we are an … interesting bunch. It should be enjoyable to work with them. At the last meeting it was decided that I should be the one who goes around making sure everyone gets up on time. I get up at 5 everyday anyway. Something tells me I will have some fun with that.
To be serious though, I have always respected Habitat for Humanity because they help prepare people get housing. But in the process they also teach those people how to take care of their houses, which is a dying skill. It is not every day that I get to be a part of that.
I am looking at this little strip of paper that they gave me that is prompting me to answer questions like “what are your fears?” and “what do you hope to learn?” To be honest (and to answer all the questions they gave me), I am not worried about this trip, nor I am looking to learn anything. I just want to be able to do some good for a week. Everything else is icing on the cake.
 
Brian

As the date for our endeavor rapidly approaches I find myself feeling more and more like an old fashion pirate setting off for new adventures and far off land lands. Each member of our group a different but intricate part of our crew. And at the head of our crew is our brave and fearless captain whom I shall follow into the darkest abyss. While we may not be out in search of booty and treasure I feel our quest is a more nobel and dignified one. What we will be finding buried under the X will be more valuable than anything you could ever find in a treasure chest. We will be finding something that only you can describe or fully experience yourself. A feeling of satisfaction and goodwill toward your fellow man kind that cannot be matched by any plunder in the world. I look forward to our castoff and cannot wait to embark on our great voyage to the port of bridges with the greatest crew to ever sail the open freeway. 
 
Bryton

Since I have been here at Gannon, I have been actively involved with Habitat for Humanity. I love the organization and the work that they do not only to build houses, but to help people learn how to be homeowners. In fact, I loved this organization so much that I decided to take on the role as President for Gannon’s Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which is largely what got me involved to lead this trip! I had gone on an ABST trip in the past and had absolutely amazing experience; I was hooked! There is nothing like spending your break by losing yourself in service to others. The fact that there was a Habitat for Humanity trip to participate in just made the decision that much easier!

I am very excited to see how Habitat for Humanity is run in different parts of the country. I am also very interested in learning more about Fairfield County and in seeing the area first-hand. Most of all, I am excited to share in this experience with my classmates, and deepen in relationships with them and with the community that we are serving. I am not really nervous about anything; I think that my excitement outweighs my nervousness! I just hope that we are all able to make bigger connections and see the bigger picture as to why we are doing this service and as to what we can draw from it. I hope that everyone can apply what we learn on this trip to the rest of their lives!
 
Thank you all for your support!

Evan

I chose to go to Bridgeport with Habitat because I really believe in the 'hand-up' message that is core to Habitat for Humanity's mission. I'm really excited for the challenge of working on a build site for a week straight, seeing the progress that will be made, and knowing that all of our collective work will go toward a home for a family that truly needs it. I'm only nervous about all the challenges that I haven't considered -- this is my first time on a trip like this, and while I'd like to think that I know what I've committed too, I won't find out until I experience it for myself. I hope to gain a better understanding of the real poverty people face in America. I feel like I've never been exposed to the day to day realities that some people are forced to face, and I hope that, through this week in Bridgeport, I'll better understand what it means to be impoverished. 

Jenna

I am nervous but excited about this trip. I chose to come on this trip because service is a big part of my life. I like helping others and I love that I am getting to go on a habitat trip. I love building things and painting so I know this trip will be fantastic. I am excited to meet new people and have a week to get away from college and just help others. I am nervous about how the week is going to go. I hope to learn more about this group and building houses. I am also excited to learn more about the family that we are building the house for. I want to gain more of an appreciation for those around me and I feel like this experience will do just that.

Laura

I chose to come on this trip to meet new people and make friends and also for the experience.  I am most excited about spending time with my fellow classmates and actually getting to know them more than just as simple acquaintances.  I am somewhat nervous about getting injured on the trip, but I am more nervous about 13 people staying under the same roof in cramped conditions and still trying to keep happy positive attitudes.  I'm afraid that sparks are gonna fly at some point.  I am hoping to gain more compassion for people in general.  I would like to learn how to put love in action.

Mackenzie

I am very excited for our trip and I am counting own the days. I wanted to come on this trip because I wanted to do service that was more local. As nice as it would be to go to a foreign country and volunteer, it is also extremely rewarding to be a part of something that is close to home. I am excited to become a part of volunteer work again because I was very active with it at home. Since being away at school it has been harder to do a lot of service and it is nice to start volunteering again. I am also excited to build closer relationships with my group and form new friendships. I am nervous about learning house-building skills because I have no idea what I am doing. It will be nice to learn these new skills though, whether or not I use them later in life.
Marya

Hello There Everyone!  I CANNOT wait for the trip – and I cannot believe it is less than a month away already!!!  It really snuck up on us fast, but I am beyond excited for it.  Our group meetings have been going well – it will be great to get to know each member of our team more and more once our trip begins!  It is wonderful being part of a group where each member is so individual and diverse, it will be interesting to see how we all work together.  During our last meeting we began to talk about the specifics of our trip – what we are bringing, wearing, eating – different topics that made the trip feel real!  I mean we have been talking about it for months now – but for it to actually be just around the corner is just craziness! 
Why did I choose to come on this trip?  Good question.  I am not entirely sure to be honest with you.  I knew of course the trip sounded fun and amazing, and I would get good memories from it for sure –but something drew me towards it.  I believe this is a time in my life when I need to find out who I really am.  I feel we all get too caught up in everyday life – not realizing (basically ignoring) the special little things and becoming easily frustrated by other little pointless things; we need a wakeup call!  I am doing this for the wellness of myself and others, through acts of kindness and love.  I hope to become more appreciative of all that surrounds me, bringing me closer to God through my actions and in prayer.  I love being with others and helping them, and I believe working for the good of others is the most rewarding thing anyone can do!  Gosh, did I say I was excited yet?!?!
Something I am nervous about would probably be taking myself out of my element and comfort here at school – but this is also something that excites me!  I hope that I can take all the things that make me scared and nervous and turn it into feelings of excitement.  I hope that I will not let my fear stop me like it has so many other times in my life – I hope it motivates me to take the extra step towards something I normally wouldn’t have done.  I plan on bringing a journal with me to jot down different memories and ideas while I am on the trip – I hope I am successful with that!  But I think reflecting every evening of our trip as a group will be key to helping us build skills that will keep us grounded when we return to Gannon.  And I hope we come back ready to continue what we learned here at GU!
Thanks everyone for reading my blog and I hope you are getting PUMPED UP for our trip!  Can’t wait to tell you all about everything that happens to us and around us:)  Keep the positive thoughts and prayers going! 
Nicole

With the ABST trip to Bridgeport, Connecticut right around the corner, my feelings of excitement and eagerness are making their way to the surface.  I am so stoked to be going on a trip with my fellow peers, and cannot wait to make everlasting friendships while doing good for a community in need.  I love the idea of getting my hands dirty and doing some hard, physical labor to help others.  Although the tasks may be difficult at times, if we all work together as a team, anything is possible.  I know our hard work will leave a lasting imprint on this community, but more importantly, they will leave a lasting imprint on us.
Stephen

I have volunteered with Habitat for a few years now, but only on an afternoon build here and there. I thought helping with their mission on the “Golden Coast” would be a great way to spend my spring break.
I am most excited about the group of people going. Everyone seems like they will be a lot of fun to work with. As with other trips, I am most nervous about the work. But being such a big, muscular guy, I shouldn’t have too much to worry about. (In case you do not know me, this is sarcasm…)
As for expectations, I try not to have any for what I may learn or gain while doing mission work. My attempt is always to keep the focus not on myself but on those whom we are called to serve. Working with open minds and open hearts allows God to speak to us through surrounding situations and people. I feel it is in this way something of true value can be learned or gained.
Tonia

Whenever I think about the Connecticut trip I get really excited because I know it is going to be such a great experience. I chose to come on this trip because I want to expand my horizons and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. I also want to volunteer more. A few years back a friend of mine went on a trip with Habitat for Humanity and helped build a house for a family. After hearing about the experience and seeing through pictures the amazing work they did I knew I wanted to be part of something like that. There are so many things that I am really excited about! For starters, I am pumped to go to Connecticut and see this state in general. I would love to eventually travel to all of the states, so this will be a good addition to my list of states I’ve been to. Another thing I’m so excited for is assisting in BUILDING A HOUSE! That is going to be so cool! I am definitely looking forward to traveling and living with our group too. It’s always exciting to branch out and meet new people, especially in a situation like this where we are all coming together for a great cause. Along with meeting new people and exploring new places comes a little bit of anxiousness and fear of the unknown. Living with a group of 12 other people will be interesting and fun, but realistically I know that some conflicts could potentially arise. I always try to get along with everyone and never seem to have issues with this; I just hope others will feel the same. Another fear is whether or not I’ll be able to figure out what it is I am to do when working on the job site. I know there will be contractors directing us, but I hope that I will be able to complete everything that is asked of me. Also, I have heard a couple negative things about the area of Bridgeport that we are going to, such as it being “ghetto”. This makes me a little nervous, yet at the same time I know that there will be twelve other people there with me and we will all have each other’s backs ;). Overall, I have no doubts that this will be an unforgettable trip and a start of many great memories made with wonderful people. I am looking forward to learning more about not only who I am, but who I want to become. I hope to also gain knowledge from the contractors and everyone on the trip on building and home care. I can’t wait!! J