Building on the border a ‘life-changing’ experience to Alternative Spring Break students

ASB2013What’s it like for a college student who has never been to El Paso to spend a week here with the United Way of El Paso County helping build a house for a family in need?

Humbling and life-changing, Sierra Janjua tells us in a follow-up note about her experience participating in Alternative Spring Break El Paso 2013.

Sierra, a student at Oklahoma State University, was one of 18 college students who came from across the country to spend spring break building houses in El Paso.

ASB_teamworkParticipants stayed on the historic mission trail at the Ysleta Lutheran Mission March 17 to March 23. They learned about basic construction by working with the Lower Valley Housing Corporation, a nonprofit which has helped low-income families build more than 360 new homes since 1990 in El Paso County. Through a program called mutual self-help construction, the majority of the labor is performed by the families who intend to live in the homes. The students  not only got to meet the families, but also work with them.

The week included learning about El Paso, visiting local museums, downtown landmarks, Fort Bliss, University of Texas El Paso, and area non-profits. The week ended with a hike in the Franklin Mountains, led by former state senator Elliot Shapleigh.
Students came from a variety of colleges, including Harvard University, Oklahoma State, Columbia University, Georgia State, and of course, the University of Texas at El Paso. Before their visit we asked them to share their perceptions of El Paso. Here are a couple of their responses:

 “Since it’s one of the safest, I think behavior often is a reflection of environmental influences, so if it’s a safe city I imagine it to be one which is community-driven and in turn, maybe well cared for.”

“I don’t know the much about El Paso, besides that it is in Texas and looks like there will be amazing food.”
You can see snapshots of their week on our Facebook photo gallery here.
When it came time to say goodbye at the end of the week, our Alternative Spring Break El Paso 2013 team went away with the satisfaction of having helped make a difference in the lives of others and a new appreciation for the power of community service.
Sierra shares with us what she took away from the experience:

Partaking in United Way’s Alternative Spring Break program in El Paso was a life-changing experience for me. I have been on volunteer projects before, but I was never able to take away the memories and gratification that I have from doing this trip.

For spring break, I normally go on vacation with family or friends. This year I decided to do something different, something that would make an impact long after spring break was over. Coming into this trip, I didn’t really think that it was going to be as impactful as it was. I felt like I’d go to a random city for a week, meet some cool people that I’d probably never see again, and do some community service. I was completely baffled by the end of the week when I had bonded so well with all of the other participants, leaders and the United Way El Paso County staff.

I learned so much about the culture of El Paso and saw a lot of the city in only a couple of days, which I really enjoyed. I thoroughly enjoyed going to the Opportunity Center and the Child Crisis Center. Without going to those two places, the trip wouldn’t have meant as much to me as it did. It was incredible seeing how El Paso takes care of its citizens.

Doing construction on the worksite was also a very interesting experience for me. I’d done some construction before, but wasn’t prepared for the amazing feeling of building a structure from the ground up. Putting in the hard work to build a wall on the ground and then getting to stand it up was truly a remarkable experience that I will never forget. Working on the worksite also allowed the other participants and I to bond and work together as a team, which is always an important aspect of volunteering. I was also glad that we did some leadership training and small group activities; this allowed me to become a stronger leader and to absorb the thoughts and ideas of the other participants.

United Way El Paso’s Alternative Spring Break Program humbled me in ways that I didn’t think it could, and it will always be an experience that I hold near and dear to my heart.

Sierra Janjua

Oklahoma State University


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