Miami Alternative Spring Break '11
And it begins.

Sunday, March 6, 2011 A.M.



12:00 am – Awake

2:27 am – Awake

3:45 am – Shower, pack, rush, forget camera and run back up, then head over to the shuttle stop.

4:20 am – Super Shuttle shows up and Alicia, Natalie and I hop on with the four other people. One gentleman was particularly lively and told us the Duquesne soccer team was going to be picked up next. Alicia and I got our hopes up, only to be disappointed by the realization of the joke.

5:25 am – At the check-in desk, Natalie speaks with the lovely employee and gets name changes taken care of and then the three of us head over to Security. When we got to the bottom of the escalator it was so packed that we couldn’t really go anywhere. Then like a beacon of light in the early morning dusk a security personnel comes over and directs us to the almost barren ‘Alternate Security Check Point’.

5:37 am – Body scanner checks to make sure I’m not hiding anything. Then I had to get strip searched…not really but I did have to take my shoes off. After we got through security we just went right over to A1 to catch our flight. The rest of the group at this point had just gotten on their shuttle after it not showing up. Needless to say JW came to the rescue and drove them all getting them to the terminal just in time.

6:30 am – Boarding begins. Alicia has parfait in hand, Natalie is herding, Jose and Shay are chit chatting excitedly and the others are in the back of the line. We get in the plane, sit down, and get ready for the ride.

6:50 am – Departure time has come. It seemed like we were going to go right away, but the snow came!! We waited in line three rimes to get de-iced and then the Pilot came on the intercom and told us we weren’t going to be able to take off for at least 45 minutes. I immediately took that opportunity to fall asleep.

9:34 am – Alicia shook me awake to tell me we were finally about to go. I woke up and lost consciousness for the next two hours and heard many songs on my iPod I didn’t know I had. When I was awake I looked out the window (easy because I was next to it) and was amazed at the beauty of the clouds. It was almost like a white carpet with a large never ending blue wall above it. When we got closer the houses and pools came into view. Its incredible to look at how planned out the land was with developments and ponds and other such things.

—Rachel Norris



Off to Bongos.

March 6, 2011 P.M.

After a long day of traveling, we finally made it to our hotel in Miami, Florida. We then got settled in our hotel, the Rodeway Inn. After that, we all met back up and went to the famous Bongos, owned by the internationally known artist Gloria Estefan. The place was very lively, despite the lack of other people present. The place was huge and it included a VIP section, which we got to explore. It was incredible. There were various types of Latin music that fuelled the eating experience. It was great to try new kinds of foods; everyone got to taste a sample of all the different Cuban food selections by sharing the appetizer sampler. Everyone got to try their own dishes, which we shared with one another.

This was a great experience for the first night staying in Miami because we got to go to a renowned restaurant that put us into the experience of the Miami lifestyle, which is saturated in Cuban culture due to the close proximity of the island. The overall mood during dinner was lively. I feel like this group dinner with everyone was very important for bringing the group together. The dinner brought people into conversations and stimulated the newly bonded friendships. Bongos was lavish and a great place to take photographs. It was ultimately a great experience.

After dinner, we went back to our hotel in which we all met up and discussed the next day’s itinerary. This was great to get everyone’s input on the next days plan. Then we all made sure to sleep at a reasonable hour to get ready for the orientation the next day.

—Sarah Bell

Work week begins… sort of.

March 7, 2011 A.M.

Monday morning began with a Habitat for Humanity orientation. There were over two hundred students from schools around the country present, having come to Miami to build houses for their spring breaks. The other students seemed very enthusiastic, but also down-to-earth, and there was a positive vibe throughout the room. We found out that we would actually be working on several different houses, all within blocks of each other, and that we’d likely get a chance to do some roof work with shingles. We also learned about the history of Liberty City, the area in which we’re building. This rundown part of the city suffered a decline when civil rights barriers were broken, allowing African American musicians performing in Miami Beach to stay there in hotels rather than in their former haven of Liberty City. Without the influx of money from the musicians, the neighborhood deteriorated into its present state as one of the most racially divided and crime-ridden areas of Miami. Despite these obstacles, Habitat still chooses to serve Liberty City, building homes in hopes of building an effective community.

Following orientation, we jetted out to Key Largo for a day of fun in the sun. We went to a state park in the area for some water adventures. The group split up, some taking a glass bottom boat tour, while the rest went snorkeling out by the reef. I took part in the snorkeling, but before jumping into the water, I asked the snorkel instructor about the large scars we spotted on his back, his chest, and his leg. As it turns out, he had been attacked by a sun fish, and they had had to take bone from other places in his body to repair his leg. Needless to say, that was comforting before getting in the water. Nevertheless, after ten minutes of getting used to the mask and breathing through the tube, I found snorkeling really enjoyable. We managed to take photos with a couple of underwater cameras, and I was impressed by the sightings of large fish, a barracuda, and a sea turtle. After about an hour in the water, we caught some rays on our speedy ride back to the shore.


—Amber Robbin

Good ending for a Monday.

March 7, 2011 P.M.

After our adventures in the waters of Key Largo, we piled into the vans and headed to Senor Frijoles, a local Mexican joint right across the highway from the John Pennekamp State Park. From the outside it didn’t look like anything special, but once we went through to the back patio we saw a delightful view of the ocean and a little marina. We sat outside soaking up the sun and enjoying the atmosphere. As the sun set, we enjoyed our tasty meals of burritos, fajitas, enchiladas. Oh and of course the endless chips and salsa! By the time we left, every one of us was extremely stuffed.

As we drove out of Key Largo, Natalie’s van made a great suggestion to stop at one of those side-of-the-road attractions they spotted, so we made a quick u-turn to visit Shell World. It was what it sounds like, a huge store full of everything to do with seashells and beaches. They had every shell that you could possibly find in that area. They even had glass cases of rare seashells that were available for purchase. I didn’t even know some shells were shaped like that. After wandering around and buying souvenirs, we piled back into the vans for the hour drive back to Miami. Most people were so tired that they took a nice nap in the vans.

Before we got home, JW and Natalie dropped us off at the Bayside Marketplace for a little shopping and strolling around. Bayside is a large outdoor shopping mall with a lot of restaurants and even a little outdoor ampatheater. We strolled around and bought a few things and soaked in the atmosphere. A few people got ice cream and then we all sat and watched a live electro/latin band play. While we were there, JW and Natalie made an excursion to Wal-Mart to buy groceries for Tuesday’s meals. They picked us up after they were done and we all finally headed back to the hotel for the night.
By this time we were all pooped, and ready for bed. We unloaded groceries and had our nightly meeting about the next day’s adventure. We prepped for our first day on the Habitat worksite by packing our backpacks and lunches. All in all, Monday was a great day of activities around Florida and getting to know our group members. We are all excited for what the rest of the week will bring us.


—April Weber

Getting to work.

March 8, 2011 A.M.

Day one of the Miami Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge (wow long title)…was a success!! It all started with a 6:30 AM symphony of cell phone alarms. My four roommates (Veronika, Amber, Bridget, April) and I managed to get ready for the day in our quaint motel room. We were in our large white vans and ready to leave the motel by 7:10. We drove to Cameron Fields where all of the habitat groups met to begin the day. Carlos and Dominique (habitat staff) introduced us to one of the habitat homeowners. She expressed her gratefulness and appreciation, and she seemed excited to continue working on her future home. We were also introduced to one of the construction leaders who debriefed us on “how not to fall off of a roof” as well as other safety precautions. After learning these essentials, the leader from Illinois prayed for an enjoyable and safe experience. We received the address of our site…and it was off to work!



JW, Natalie, and our handy-dandy GPS got us to the worksite by 8:00. We quickly discovered that we were working with the Wake Forest College group. After hammering nails with some of our Wake Forest friends, we learned that their college is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Almost all of the members of their group are involved with their Intervarsity Christian Fellowship organization. Getting to know the Wake Forest Crew was fun! We also got to know a few of the Ameri-Corps workers, Will and Leeon. We learned a lot about them, and they are both great people!

As for the physical labor…we had the opportunity to do some exciting stuff! My group worked on the roof for the entire morning. We successfully used our newly acquired “how not to fall off of a roof” skills. Our task was to secure tar sheets with the proper materials. This seemed like a daunting task, after Will told us that they needed to be six inches apart…that’s a lot of hammering. But it was amazing that by working together as a team, we were able to finish the entire roof by lunch! The people on the roof had a birds-eye-view of the hard-working landscaping team! They worked diligently to remove concrete, garbage, and leaves from the yard. The team working inside the house prepared for the drywall by nailing wood to the walls and constructing a ceiling. After lunch, people switched assignments and continued to work and sweat! Day one was fun and gratifying! I can’t wait to see how the remainder of the week unfolds!

—Nikki Thomas

Beach, beach, beach.

March 8, 2011 P.M.

After an amazing day at the build site, we all headed back to your hotel rooms. We quickly changed into our swim gear, grabbed our beach towels and applied sunscreen to each other. The group got into the vans and headed to Miami Beach. Lennon , Americorp member of Habitat for Humanity, suggested we check out South Pointe Beach, so that’s what we did. JW and Natalie dropped us off at the park and they went to get more food for our lunches on the build site. Together we walked along the seemingly endless path that bordered the rocky shore. I saw lots of boats and the pier in the distance. Halfway down the path we walked through a very ritzy restaurant that flanked the path. There were so many cats prancing around the park.

Finally we arrived at the sandy beach and I could feel the tiny bits of shell under my feet. I placed my purple towel down and took on the view. The many shades of blue on the horizon on the quiet beach was so peaceful after the long day at the site. As the sun went down, it got so cold and windy on the beach. We finally got the magically call from JW and Natalie and we started back to the car. On the way back to the van, Kelly, Erin and Sha rolled down a huge grassy hill. After the tumble, we all got back on the path. We all noticed the coconuts that were hanging from the tall trees. Someone come up with bright idea to take one home. I quickly saw the pyramid emerge and Kelly seemed to fly to the top. After grabbing the cocoanuts, Kelly fell from the tree and landed on her butt. Kelly is crazy for coconuts. We all got back to the hotel in one piece and got ready for dinner. We ordered pizza and sat around the pool. I enjoyed the time we sent talking about our day. At the nightly meeting we discussed diversity and race relations in Miami. This meeting was the best way to end the day. Time to go to bed because the alarm clock goes off to early!

—Veronika Panagiotou

Reaching midpoint.

March 9, 2011 A.M.

Good afternoon friends. Today is Wednesday March 10. The trip has been quite awesome thus far and we have had a very successful day today. I just want to give a quick-ish sum up of the trip before I proceed to talk about today starting with our fabulous 4 am wake-up call on the first day of this week.

Sunday was spent mostly finding our way down to Miami enduring minor tribulations in the airport but providing for extra time for team bonding. Most of us didn’t know each other that well, but we all became quickly acquainted due to our entertaining rush at 5:00 am as we witnessed JW’s facial expressions as he anxiously drove the Point Park shuttle. The three hour layover resulting from the missed connection in Tampa allotted all of us eager PPU students to get to know everyone’s background story and interest towards the alternative spring break. Following our arrival, a delicious Cuban dinner was provided at Bongos, where we got to further explore all the unique personalities which came on this trip.

Monday was dedicated to a brief orientation and fun in the sun at Key Largo. Initially I came into this experience knowing only one other student pretty well and two others partially well from school classes. Although it was only the first full day in Miami, already I felt that this group had a strong bond and everyone got along really well, sharing the same excitement about soaking up some vitamin D as well as helping out the community. That day individuals were full of energy and excitement for the day’s activities whether it was swimming with schools of fish or seeing the sea from below. After the ocean activities were completed we all filled our tummies while enjoying some fine Mexican delicacies while sitting outside watching the sunset. After the hour drive returning from Key Largo to Miami, some students chose to exchange some money for new clothes or other artifacts native to Miami, exploring the shops and kiosks that Bayside strip center offers. We also got to enjoy live music that was a combination of soft pop rock with a Cuban flare. It is evident why so many different cultures have found their way into southern Florida. Between the different types of food, traditions, aesthetic beaches and varied cultures, the group received a good understanding for the diversity that lives in Miami.

Yesterday (Tuesday) began with a group gathering and prayer devotional by all of the students attending collegiate challenge. We broke into separate groups working on individual houses within Liberty City. Point Park worked alongside with Wake Forest University. Many of us got to know the individuals who attended school in North Carolina which was definitely cool to hear their stories and the different things that their school focuses on. One girl I met was from Thailand and wants to become a world culture reporter and photographer. Another girl I found was from Houston where I am also from. That day I thought about how students come from many different backgrounds and cultures from within each university and how awesome it is that we all unite and share the same passion for volunteer work. Half of the PPU group worked hard in the sun on landscaping outside. The other half worked on the roof nailing and finishing the base of the roof. After our hard work that day, we found ourselves rewarded with a nice relaxation day on south beach. We wrapped up that evening with a meeting where everyone shared their thoughts about the hard work we had completed. I found it crazy how much work was actually completed in less than one third of a day. It seems when many people come together and you work under God’s influence anything can be completed. I felt that most of the students felt the same awe and amazement with that work’s day and we hoped to continue on the same track.

So today, being day four of the trip and day three of working, served as quite a successful day as well. I just want to begin by defining a shutter. A shutter is any piece of equipment which aides to sheltering a house. It can be something as simple as a piece of wood which can prevent blinding sun rays from entering a house. For people in Miami however, this one word is something that is vital to living in southern Florida year round. A hurricane shutter is made out of metal and comes in all sizes. In order to avoid donating 10,000 dollars each year to insurance companies, Miami habitants are required to have hurricane shutters on all windows and doors during hurricane season. On a side note, their hurricane season usually spans from March to October so it’s pretty much mandated to own shutters. This morning we found out that the employees from Bank of America (one of Habitats largest monetary sponsors in Miami Dade County) were coming to volunteer at multiple house sites, ours being one of them. Due to the abundance of helpers at our site, PPU’s help was more necessary at the Habitat for Humanity restore. At the restore, people donate everything from clothes, albums, and books to much larger things such as an entire hardware store and a boat. The restore also has an abundant supply of hurricane shutters, being one of the most popular and demanded items. The issue that the restore has faced is that their (roughly) 6,000 shutters are unorganized in size, ranging from about 2 feet to 20 feet. The task at hand was to organize all the shutters in numerical order so that people will be able to find the shutters they need easily and will purchase their shutters from Habitat.

When we first arrived at the restore sight we were greeted by a friendly and eager employee named Dawn. Dawn seemed completely shocked at the abundant amount of students who were volunteering that day and knew that we would accomplish more than the current employees could accomplish in half a year. He explained how he had never had so many people at once to aide that store and in the midst of his astonishment felt the need to document it with many photographs. After we completed the paparazzi-esque session we proceeded to browse the store and see what it’s all about. We saw many cool items that people no longer felt the need to have and donated. Similar to a thrift store, resale stores are always really unique in the sense that someone else has owned an item and that all of the merchandise has a background story. The store was set up similar to a warehouse like that of an Ace hardware or Lowe’s.


Upon completing the browsing of the store, Dawn gave us directions on how to begin. Each individual metal hurricane shutter was to be measured, labeled, and then taken to be organized and stacked. At this point I was a little confused because Dawn kept directing me to mature something. This did not sound like mature as in to aide in the growth of an object, but pronounced ‘may-ture’. I asked around what the definition of mayturing something was since everyone seemed to understand this commonly known tool word. I was then explained that it was his way of pronouncing the word measure. This was something I found super interesting because he was from Ohio, close to Pittsburgh. I had never heard this type of dialect and was intrigued how even though we are all a part of the same nation this was one example of how everyone is so different even in the way we learn to speak the same language. I love to hear the different way people pronounce things or the way that individuals from different parts of the country have different vocabulary for the same object.

People instantly took action and designated themselves a specific responsibility. I first gave a failed attempt to lift up many metal shutters at once not realizing how much heavier they are than they appeared, overestimating my strength. After accepting that my biceps are not nearly as developed as most of the gentlemen that were present I proceeded down the assembly line to be ‘measured’, labeled, and to make the journey down the warehouse and drop off my single shutter in its appropriate place according to size. Hours later, we had begun to make drastic progress stacking four foot piles of same sizes in proper order spanning about 100 yards down the warehouse wall. The challenges we began to face were the different shapes of the shutters that were not so agreeable with being stacked on other shutters that didn’t have the same exact crevices. This resulted in falling stacks. The excitement definitely escalated when only a few of us were organizing the stacks while people continued to bring us more shutters to be stacked on our already lopsided piles. TIMBER. Luckily, help came in for us quickly and everyone pitched in to make new stacks. I think everyone underestimated the amount of room we actually needed for all of these shutters.


By the time 3:00 pm had come, we moved over 5,000 of the shutters that leaned against the wall into organized numerical ordered piles. The progress that we made was absolutely wild. There were aisles of four foot piles of shutters alongside the one wall of the warehouse. Dawn also found himself astounded. Many battle wounds, minor cuts, and even some ripped cakey pants later, our group was highly impressed with how once again working towards the same goal with your peers can get you anywhere you want. Dawn was so pleased he once again felt the need to capture every moment. We had a second photography session outside to conclude the day. Once he shared with us that our work in that one day will help profit habitat 10,000 dollars that next month we definitely understood and shared his excitement. Our hard work definitely paid off. Once again all hard work must be rewarded, resulting in the improvement of our tans and relaxation in the sand.

SOUTH BEACH.

—Bridget Scheiner

Realizations.

March 9, 2011 P.M.


I have wanted to go on alternative spring break trip or other volunteer mission for years, but it was always too expensive. I’m really grateful that the opportunity is finally available at Point Park. The experience is everything I have expected and more so far. I expected to work very hard in the heat. I expected to work in teams with new people from all over. I expected to do what I like to call “vent compassion.” The “gratification” or whatever it is we get from helping others, I don’t think that’s it. I think I have been watching Haiti and Katrina and global poverty on television, waiting for the day I can finally do something about it.

I can’t decide what is harder: hammer and nailing or carrying around heavy hurricane shutters, but the latter was more tiring. The work we did apparently could earn the store $10,000, because so many people need them before hurricane season. The concept of the re-store is to provide low cost items and use the proceeds to build houses. They recycle what they can’t sell. So it’s good in several ways.

The part about this trip I didn’t really expect was it to feel like a vacation outside of working, but it’s well organized to facilitate lots of fun. I’ve failed twice in the past to really go snorkeling, and I consider finally pulling it off an accomplishment. There was so much sea life to see: coral reef, fish of all colors and, luckily, a sea turtle. That made getting in the water worth it for me. It came so close. I think one day, I will have to grow the balls to go scuba diving. Hopefully, if I get to live my dream of working in documentary television, I will learn to operate an underwater camera.

I can’t get over how lucky I am to do this. To come and learn about a new city, as well as help out one of its neighborhoods. To visit and to make a difference in peoples’ lives-FINALLY!

—Angela Semple

Time moving fast.

March 10, 2011 A.M.

Another beautiful day, another day of work, but this time we worked on the same house as we did on Tuesday. I continued to work on the roof, this time attaching the shingles. With some of the girls, we figured out a very fast method for hammering those shingles onto the roof. Time passed by really fast working on that project, and lunchtime was here before we knew it, together with some raindrops. Though, who would have thought that a couple of raindrops would turn into a semi-storm hurricane style. It was interesting to see how the rain would get heavier and heavier while we were enjoying our sandwiches from inside the vans.

Fortunately, the rain didn’t last too long, and after we had finished with our lunches there were only clouds in the sky. We had to let the roof dry off, so the ones who were working on the roof had to switch jobs. Now we had to finish painting the inside of a neighboring house that was also under construction. Needless to say, it was nearly impossible not to get drops of paint in your shirt, hands, or even face. But even that was fun, and since there were more people working on the painting of that house, we finished it faster. Another day of work was already gone. Really? Where did those 7 hours of work go?



This has been an awesome trip. Getting to know all these people has been great, and has made the work easier and almost unnoticeable. Best thing is that I feel I’ve made some good friends, and that’s something I really appreciate. And the weather? The weather is just icing on the cake. I am glad I chose to spend my spring break working with Habitat for Humanity; I’d do it again if I have the chance.

—Jose Olavarria

Injuries and celebrations.

March 10, 2011 P.M.

I am having such an amazing time in Miami. This is my first time in Florida and I have never been somewhere so beautiful. Today was our third day working for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami and I participated on Quartisha’s home. We painted all of her house with two coats of white and it looked wonderful. It was so rewarding to read her message on the door about her story and realize that I am truly making a difference in this person’s life to own a house of her own.

When we ate lunch it stormed so badly. It was unbelievable how quickly the rain came and then how fast it cleared up. I usually don’t care for storms in Pittsburgh but it was interesting to witness a Miami storm. We all sat in the van conveniently during lunchtime and ate while we waited for it to clear up. After it finally did, we went back to the home and finished painting the second coat of paint. With an effort of students between us and Wake Forest University, we finished the task incredibly early.

The funniest moment of the day had to have been when Shay and I were playing on a really big tree in the front of the home. It looked like a tree from Disney’s “Tarzan” and we decided, “Oh, let’s try to swing on the vine!” So Shay went first and as soon as she swung the vine broke and she landed straight on her bottom. She was fine and not hurt, but we couldn’t stop laughing.


After we finished painting for the day, we went back to the hotel and got ready for the Habitat BBQ at a local church. It was so generous of the church workers to prepare a meal for all of the Habitat students. We played a game, prayed, ate and talked about some of our tasks. This year is the first year that Habitat of Greater Miami is sponsored. The generous sponsor is the Bank of America, and they donated gifts to us which were hats and bracelets.

I can’t believe that tomorrow is our last day at the worksite and we are returning home so soon. This will definitely be something that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I’m sure that the friends I made I will keep in touch with back on campus. I hope to spread the word and inspire others to help with the Habitat project and to one day be able to volunteer again.

—Alicia Lyons