College is arguably the most defining moment of our lives. When we choose an institution of higher education, we are implanting ourselves in a community that we should preserve, protect and leave better than we found. Alternative Spring Break was my way of holding true to that commitment.
As a Florida native, I have grown up with sunny skies, the crashing sounds of the waves and sand filling the gaps in between my toes; during my second year in college at Howard University, I decided to do something different for spring break. I decided to SERVE a great American city, devastated by a hurricane and reeling from its effects, by participating in Howard’s week-long Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.
The destination was New Orleans and students were assigned to groups tasked to assist in rebuilding homes, tutor displaced students, and canvas neighborhoods ensuring the remaining residents the services that were available to them. I was assigned to the group that assisted in rebuilding homes. Within a week we were making a tangible difference, we rebuilt kitchen cabinets, fences and painted the interior/exterior of homes.
I recall meeting an elderly woman. Ms. Bee.
Her house had been completely destroyed, and she had watched as her next door neighbor drowned.
Ms. Bee, in fact, had been living out of a trailer home with her grandchildren for months, awaiting her home to be rebuilt. Like all the residents of the lower 9th ward of New Orleans, Ms. Bee was a victim of the storm. Ms. Bee moved me.
Although the storm turned her life upside down, she remained positive. Our presence provided HOPE; it confirmed that the people of New Orleans were not forgotten.
ASB was one of my most memorable college experiences. It was such an eye-opener. It showed me that too many times we take the small things in life for granted. More importantly, it showed me that if we work TOGETHER we can make a difference.
Deciding to spend my spring break in service provided many unexpected rewards. During that week in New Orleans, my mindset towards service changed. I grew up. And I made lifelong friends. Alternative spring break reaffirmed my belief in the power of banding together to help those who are less fortunate.
In the words of The H.O.P.E. Scholarship co-founder, Michelle J. Nealy, “HBCUs are and have always been laboratories for cultivating genius in minority populations. Service, community engagement, innovation and leadership are the life-blood of HBCUs.” The week-long event as a Howard student changed my life forever.
During that week I vowed to be “HOPEDEALER”, a person who intends to make the world a better place for all people.
Helping Others Pursue Education, is not something I participate in half-heartedly; it is in my DNA and Ms.Bee is the vitality I carry with me as a reminder of why I must pay it forward.
A 2009 graduate of Howard University, Jeffrey D. Chance is the co-founder and executive director of The H.O.P.E. Scholarship Initiative, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization designed to empower students facing financial hardships with scholarships. Follow HOPE on twitter @hopescholarship.