Volunteer Profile: Owl Breaks

“To me, home is that place where you go to after a long tiring day to lay your head down, not because your clothes are there, not because there’s food there. If all was lost, if everything was vanished and gone, one ought to be able to get ‘Home’ still.” – Samuel, Owl Breaks Volunteer

The students of Florida Atlantic University came looking for something more. On their alternative spring break trip–or their “Owl Breaks” trip, as they called it–they planned to experience New Orleans on only five dollars a day.

“We budget ourselves to live on five dollars a day,” Samuel, a student leader on the trip, said. “Yes, all of us. We chose five dollars just to, in a way, put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Instead of everything else that we take for granted everyday.

“It’s a little tough because you kind of assume because we come from a place of privilege,” said Catherine, one of the student leaders of the trip, “that doesn’t mean we’re wealthy, but we do have a lot of benefits–privileged pretty much. So we come here, and Alternative Breaks, that’s what it about having that humbling experience to put yourself in the shoes of what other people are going through, so when we come here and really enforce that five dollars a day, and it’s really like oh, I can’t really eat what I want or buy what I want so it’s really a little hard, especially when it’s a group.”

Samuel spoke of his motivations for joining the trip. Like many volunteers, he wants to make a difference.

“A few years ago, I just went through something in my life that made me see the world differently now, and it’s for the better,” said Samuel, “I think that new outlook on life made me realize that I could make a difference by doing things, not just here at Habitat, but around my community. So I have the opportunity to do Owl Breaks through my school, and that was kind of a vehicle to continue doing that.”

He found the lagniappe–that something extra they wanted to find on the trip–he was looking for in a tour from a local resident who spoke to the students about his experiences during Hurricane Katrina. Learning about what the city was like after the storm and what the experiences of those who lived through it gave a deeper perspective to the student volunteers.

“Seeing him tell his story about what happened, you know?” Samuel said, “You don’t get that in the news. Even when you do get it, you don’t get it fully, but when you get it from someone that was actually there to experience that, it’s something else.”

“Home is a place of safety and comfort,” said Catherine, “and it breaks my heart to know thousands of homes and buildings were damaged. Working with an organization that provides housing to individuals is an honor because in doing so I get to serve Habitat for Humanity to continue working on its vision but the vision of families, to have a home.”

With these experiences in mind, they got to work a few days after they arrived, building in the Seventh Ward. They appreciated the chance to see the results of their hard work while on site.

“I’ve always been into the physical surveying,” said Catherine, “and I like doing fun physical stuff so it’s been kind of easy, at least them showing me how to do it is easy but some things I have to constantly call them for, but I like it, I enjoy it. I like seeing the transition from the beginning to how it looks now and to see that we all have contributed to this in some way or another. None of us has done this before but the [site leader] Megan and [AmeriCorps] Max have made it so we understand how to do it.”

“Home to me is a feeling you get whether you’re in a location or you’re with a loved one,” said Catherine. “It is the warm tingly feeling that you get that makes you feel safe, warm, loved and joyful. It is a place of comfort, safety and connection. It is the feeling you get that you can put your hair up, fuzzy socks and sip your favorite drink and relax, too!”