Painting (literally) a brighter picture: Students go on service missions for spring break
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com April 21, 2014 2:22PM
Allison Nazorek (front row, center), of Oak Lawn, and a team of North Central College students pose in front of a home they worked on in Birmingham, Ala., over spring break. | Supplied photo
Updated: May 24, 2014 6:14AM
For a couple of local college students, spring break meant exploring new destinations.
It also meant packing paintbrushes and hammers rather than suntan lotion and beach blankets.
Marissa Sylvester, of Mokena, and Allison Nazorek, of Oak Lawn, spent spring break, respectively, in Detroit and Birmingham, Ala. — destinations that typically don’t attract spring break crowds.
But for these two North Central College students, these locations were their first choices.
Instead of a relaxing week off from the rigors of academia, they participated in a labor-intensive week of rebuilding lives in these two cities.
It was the first trip to these cities for both students, and their first mission trip, but it definitely will not be their last, they said.
Nazorek, a 2012 graduate of Richards High School and now a North Central College sophomore, organized the trip to Birmingham through BreakAway — a campus group that offers such trips during winter, spring and summer breaks for students interested in “life-changing experiences.”
Nazorek looked for a place that was within budget and of interest to students, and found Birmingham — “rich in history and warmer than Illinois,” she said. She and eight other students teamed up with Habitat for Humanity and helped families build new homes and new lives.
“Each day, we worked on various tasks including tile work, flooring, painting, hanging doors, installing windows, making trim, roofing, sanding and many other things. We were moved around each day, which allowed us to see a lot of different areas and meet a lot of new people,” Nazorek said in an email interview.
“It was fun to learn how to build and put things together, but it also meant a lot that we were helping a family in need. I loved knowing that we were helping others,” she wrote.
The workdays began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. In the evening, Nazorek and her North Central friends socialized with student volunteers from Elmhurst and St. Olaf colleges.
“We were usually so tired that many of us would fall asleep between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.,” she wrote.
Sylvester, a junior biochemistry major, got involved in the Motown Mission Experience when a friend called to say they needed more participants to make the trip to Detroit happen.
“It was a perfect way to get involved,” the 2011 graduate of Lincoln-Way East High School said.
The college’s office of multicultural affairs sent a team into the heart of Detroit to do economic disaster recovery projects. Here, students saw abandoned buildings, graffiti and litter-strewn streets “everywhere,” she said.
Every day was different, she said.
They moved donated furniture into a veterans home, scraped paint off an abandoned building that was to become a teen center, repainted the sanctuary at Brightmore Church, and worked inside the church’s Free Store, which supplies home goods, clothes and other necessities free to people in need.
“We were exhausted but it was worth it,” said Sylvester, who otherwise would have spent her spring break relaxing at home.
She told a woman she met at the Free Store how gratifying it was to work there.
“She gave me a big hug, and said, ‘God brought you to us. We could not do it without you,’ ” Sylvester said. “It really meant a lot to them. It seemed so simple to us but it made a gigantic impact.
“I love doing hands-on work. I would rather donate my time and see the physical changes. Those small things we did can have an impact. Every little bit helps. It can kick-start the rebuilding of Detroit,” she said.
Sylvester’s team also learned about Detroit’s culture as they visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Motown Museum. She left with a different feeling about Detroit. It was not the scary, unsafe place she heard it would be.
Nazorek and Sylvester already are thinking about future trips.
“I started looking for Habitat locations in the area,” Nazorek said. “I also hope to go abroad and serve on a BreakAway trip in other countries.”
It was most rewarding to meet so many different people and help someone new each day, she said. The other volunteers “really made it clear that the work we were doing was making a difference,” she said.
“It made me stop and realize that nothing should be taken for granted and that even if we each just put in one week of work, we are making a difference in many people’s lives,” Nazorek said.
“I hope this inspires people to get more involved. There’s not enough of that,” Sylvester said. “It is very rewarding.”