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Spring Alternative Break Wrap-up

The Fraternal Outreach Coordinators paired up with the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa for an experience of a lifetime on this alternative break, what they hope is one of many to come.

On March 12, we departed for New Orleans, Louisiana for the Spring 2017 Alternative Break. Throughout the week, with the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa and Catholic Mission Trips, Inc., we worked on one of the many homes that was impacted by The Great Flood in August of 2016.

“These last four days have been the biggest blessings in years,” the homeowner, Jay, said. “We’ve been struggling, and we went through a lot of emotional trauma.”

More than half a million homes were impacted by The Great Flood. Unfortunately, like many others living in the area, homeowners Jay and Jessica did not have flood insurance because they are in a zone that is not normally affected by flooding.

“This was a major tragedy,” Jay said. “I was ready just to give up; I wanted to light it on fire.”

Jay and Jessica’s home was under 8 feet of water. The two lost everything – their car, furniture, clothing and more. But they gained hope when our group of 31 arrived and began to help them put the pieces of their home back together.

“Y’all being here has been amazing,” Jay said. “The work that y’all have done was the hard part; it was the part I didn’t even want to look at. Now, it’s going to be a home again.”

Throughout the week we de-nailed the wall studs and joists, removed some of the existing plywood and subflooring, assisted in adding new floor joists and new wall layouts, and removed the exterior door layout and some of the window layouts as well. We also raked and removed weeds growing within the Jay and Jessica’s garden.

“It’s not a build so much, it’s a reconstruction,” Fr. Jeff Belger, the Priest Campus Minister at the Newman Catholic Center at the University of Iowa, said “We have ripped out walls, we have torn out the floors, we have taken every bit and piece off this house that will become a home.”

Jake Larkins, one of the students from the University of Iowa, exclaimed, “We even got flooring in!” Alex Kluver, another student on the trip, echoed, “Yeah! We got new floors!”

Some of the volunteers removed a shower, pipes, all the rotting insulation within the home, an HVAC system and a bathtub. Thankfully, we had all the necessary safety equipment – hazmat suits, safety goggles, masks and gloves – with us to complete these projects without harm.

“I didn’t have any experience when it came to construction, so I was [thinking], ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to be helpful.’ But there’s just been so much you can do,” Andy Sherer of the University of Iowa said.

At the end of the week we planted a tree for the homeowners to symbolize their new beginning, and Fr. Jeff Belger blessed their home.

“We ask God’s blessing upon the water, and then as we sprinkle the water throughout the house, may it be the only moisture that is there ever again,” Fr. Jeff Belger said with a chuckle.

Jay and Jessica said they were so impressed by the amount of work that was completed throughout the week. “This has been a wonderful blessing for us to have all of you guys here to help us with anything and everything that you all did,” Jessica said. “We can’t thank you enough.” 

Jay and Jessica are looking forward to moving back into their home by the end of the summer, something they didn’t anticipate would happen for a long time.

“It’s really close, and I’m so appreciative,” Jay said.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been a spring break without a little bit of exploratory fun mixed in! The students spent the entire day on Friday without work so they could explore New Orleans. Some participated in a Swamp Tour and got to hold an alligator! Others visited the World War II Museum. Another group traveled to the beach for the day and enjoyed a hike, and our last group went on a ferry tour of the Mississippi River.

“I’m really glad I came this week,” Erin Maloney, Holy Family 1, Chicago, Ill. said. “My faith has grown so much this week, and I met a lot of new people.”

Lilly Boenker, a student from the University of Iowa, said, “It’s just been very rejuvenating to be around 30 people who believe what I believe and want to change the world one act of kindness at a time.”

Throughout the week the students enjoyed an assortment of evening programs that we planned. From visiting Hotel Hope, a shelter for women and children in need, to attending Adoration and Reconciliation, the students grew spiritually and in friendship with each other.

“It was definitely something that I was nervous about, because I didn’t know anybody at all,” Grant Spading said. “But it’s been such a great team, and it makes me a lot more faithful in the kindness of people.”

“The mission trip was here, but our mission will continue when we go back to Iowa City,” Jaci Albrecht of the University of Iowa said.

“If you’re thinking about attending an Alternative Break, just go for it,” University of Iowa student Erin Abraham said. “Just trust in the Lord that He will show you what is right.”

Article by Alyssa Strickland and Brittany Demendi.

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