For 16 students at Montgomery County Community College, spring break this year wasn't about the beaches, beer and bathing suits.
However, members of the college's Alternative Spring Break trip to Amarillo, Texas, were glad to trade all that for an opportunity to help families in need. And they still got to soak up some rays, to boot.
"It was a once in a lifetime experience," said Kelly Tascarella, a 2011 Upper Dublin High School graduate and member of the Fort Washington Fire Company. "It’s very important to me to help families and make a difference for someone who is in need."
Tascarella joined her classmates and four faculty members for the annual service trip, this time heading to the Lone Star State for seven days last week to work with Habitat for Humanity. The group started on Monday by taking part in Habitat's "Brush with Kindness" program, stripping paint from a house and garage before priming and repainting it.
Then the group moved on to two more houses, gutting the interior carpets and counters and replacing siding and molding on the exterior. Tascarella said that while the work was rewarding, it certainly wasn’t easy.
"The experience was amazing, but at the same time very exhausting," said Tascarella. "But every single moment that was put into the houses was worth it. To see the joy and hope in the owner of the homes is the whole reason I [went]."
The group chronicled their trip by blogging, sharing their experiences with text, photography and video. One post recounted a conversation with one of the homeowners:
"We met one of the future homeowners today. She told us how in the winter the pipes froze in her current home, leaving her and her 17-year-old son without heat and water. We comforted her and told her that all of this will be just bad memories in few months when she’ll move into her new place."
The group also had a few chances to enjoy themselves. A day off allowed for cowboy boot shopping and trips to the Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon.
The students returned to Pennsylvania on Sunday and the trip marked the largest yet in the Alternative Spring Break's six-year history. Tascarella said the experience instilled a sense of service in her.
"This is something I would like to bring closer to home, to help people in surrounding communities in which I live," said Tascarella.