Jocelyn Nitta, Alexandra Roberts, and Mackenzie Blackwell meet new opportunities, open hearts, and lasting lessons.

This year is my third year coming onto this trip, and every time it is a completely new experience. I absolutely love coming on this trip, not just for the rewarding feeling of helping someone but also for the bond that I form with my fellow classmates. Every year the people that we are helping are so thankful for the work we do. Sometimes the jobs we do are just little things like cleaning up a yard, but each thing that we do the homeowners are beyond thankful.

During this trip my group got placed on a horse farm called P & L Stables which was owned by two wonderful sisters. They had gotten hit by the hurricane and the fences and their grounds were destroyed. So every day this week we have been going there and helping take down the fence, clean up the fallen debris, and build a new fence. We work whether it’s pouring rain or sunny out. We all just want to help the best we can. The two sisters, Pam and Liz, were the most gracious people. They helped us the best they could and told us their amazing story. I don’t even think that they believed that we would even start the fence because of all the debris. I am proud to say that today, which was our last day, we cleaned up all of the fallen branches and we finished about 180ft out of 428 ft of fence that needed to be built. It was amazing how much we got done. In return not only did we form a relationship with Pam and Liz but the horses too. Today we got to ride them, which was the highlight of the trip.

What makes or breaks the trip is the people that are on it. I got to get so much closer to some of the kids that aren’t in my grade, specifically the freshman. This trip just gives use an opportunity to bond in an environment outside of school. There really is no other option other than to get along. We are together for about 160 hours. But there is no other people who I would want to be on this trip with than these people. It is an amazing experience and I would recommend this trip to anyone. I have learned so much about myself. I am constantly challenging myself and getting out of the comfort zone. There isn’t anything I’d rather be doing on winter break than this.

–Jocelyn Nitta:

As this week comes to a close I can honestly say that this has been another great experience on the alternative February break.  This will be my second year going on one of these trips, and so far each year has gotten better and better.  Last year, I was a very quiet, insecure sophomore and the trip to Mississippi helped me come out of my comfort zone and meet new people that I am still friends with to this day.  This year included, I have made new friends that I can carry with me all through the rest of my high school career.

Once we arrived in St. Augustine, Florida, I knew it was going to be another great week.  The beautiful sun and the warm temperatures were something that I have missed back in Michigan.  On our first work day we were split up into groups and sent off to each individual work site; I was lucky enough to spend the week on a horse ranch in Palm Beach.  Although the weather was a barrier, my group managed to knock down about 500 feet of fencing and build up some brand new fencing for the horses to graze in.  We also cleaned up a lot of debris that was torn off trees during the hurricane, and we made a giant burn pile. The rain did slow down the amount of work we did accomplish; however, we managed to make a great impact on the farm that the owners will remember for the rest of their days.

Today was mostly just a day of closure.  We made some final adjustments to the fence and moved some more debris to the burn pile, then it was off to the showers.  Our first stop was the gator farm where we got to see all kinds alligators and crocodiles from around the world. After about two hours, we were treated to a wonderful dinner on the water.  The food was just as good as the view.

This year was another trip I will never forget, and I hope I am able to come on another amazing trip my senior year.  I have become closer with so many new people and I have done work that I never thought I would do.  This trip is truly an amazing experience and a memory I will never forget.

–Alexandra Roberts

Today has been a wonderfully chaotic and perfect day. It started early this morning with a large plate of leftover spaghetti that needed to be eaten up and ended late tonight with multiple slices of pepperoni pizza and a lot of dancing. A lot happened in between those things. I used a sledgehammer, and spent a fair amount of time in a dumpster. I also held a gator and then later ate some gator and danced on a pier to a live cover band with my best friends. I could not have asked for a more weirdly perfect day to end my fourth and final relief trip.

There has been nothing else in my life that has impacted me more heavily and more deeply than the relief trips. It has been on these four trips where I have learned what it means to work hard and to push myself both mentally and physically. I have made some of my closest friends and favorite memories. I have learned what it is like to be a part of something that is so much bigger than my little suburban world. What I have really learned, though, was something I never even expected to learn. It has been over these past few years that I have really learned how large people’s hearts are. Each and every year I am surprised by the generosity of others. Every person I come across on these trips, whether it be my own classmates or the people who let us completely take over their churches for a week, I am stunned at how good people can be to other people. I am blown away year after year at how willing people are to open their hearts to others and continue to give.

One year the church we were staying at left us a small little gift on our pillows each night. Discovering what was left for us quickly became the highlight of everyone’s day, and the smiles it brought to our faces were enormous. This year, the church not only made us dinner and brought us dessert, but they also rented us a shaved ice truck where we were all able to get shaved ice. Never have I ever seen a group of kids so happy to see a vehicle pull into a parking lot. The generosity of people already helping us out moves me nearly to tears every single year, without fail. But it is not just the people who graciously open their doors to us, either: I have found that some of the largest hearts belong to my classmates.

The work that I’ve seen on the worksites is incredible, and it is (almost) always done with a smile and some jokes or maybe a song or two. This year in particular, the iCarly theme song and “Still Dre” have been very popular. And the generosity goes even beyond the worksites. A lot of times it’s the small things. Someone letting someone else get into the highly anticipated shower before them. Or someone grabbing you a water bottle without you even asking. Or someone cheering another on as they swing a heavy sledgehammer. It has been on these trips that I have truly learned the power of humans and human goodness. Nothing is more wonderful than seeing someone do something for another person simply because they want to make their life a little bit better.

I am so grateful that I have had these four years to really learn that, and I could not have asked for a better year to end on. This trip has easily been my favorite of the four. I have never been a part of a more cohesive and friendly group where each and every person gave it their all and helped out at every step of the way, from kitchen cleanup to sawing through tree limbs. So yes, I am sad that this week is rapidly coming to an end, and my time with #altfeb is through, but I will never ever forget the memories I’ve made, the many friendships that have developed, or more importantly, the lessons I’ve learned, and for that, I’m grateful.

–Mackenzie Blackwell