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Building a House Gives One Grad Courage

By Tom DeFreytas

When Tiana Patterson graduated from Emory in 2006, she moved to Boston and became involved with the Celtics and their Read to Achieve program--an interest that sprang from her senior-year Spring Break with Habitat for Humanity.

Why did you choose to spend Spring Break volunteering?
I wanted to do a more meaningful spring break. Typically spring breaks are all about drinking and partying with friends. I thought that feeling a sense of accomplishment and knowing that I helped others would be a lot more satisfying than a hangover. I also was intrigued to see how Habitat for Humanity actually worked. I mean, you have all these volunteers--how do you get them together logistically towards a common goal and particularly how do you get our generation off our butts?

How did you find out about the trip?
It was advertised on Emory's campus. I'm not sure through which organization, but I believe there is a club called "Alternative Spring Break," so I looked into it and I went.

What was the experience like? What work did you do? How was it when you weren't working?
The experience was exhausting. We woke up at 7 a.m. to be out at the site by 8:30 a.m.; typically we worked until 4 p.m. Initially when we got there, the college students before us had gotten as far as building a foundation. By the end of my five days there, we were putting siding on the house. So each day was different. I put up walls, installed insulation, installed windows and doors; I hung siding, and helped put in asphalt shingles. That was amazing--looking at the end of five hard days of work and realizing that it went from a foundation to looking like a house!
When we weren't working we were pretty tired. We played a lot of board games and I think my group went out a couple times. We were in Tallahassee, so it was a big college town. There was also another school there, so I met a lot of new people and made friends.

How did this experience assist you in finding work after graduation?

It gave me the idea that if I could help to build a house in five days, the post-college job search is nothing compared to this! I think it really was a test of character and perseverance, so I was glad to realize that I had the ability to accomplish something so hard.

What advice would you give to someone interested in volunteering during Spring Break?
I would tell them to do it! Every experience is different, but I have known quite a few people who have done this and none of them regretted it. It's hard work, and you might feel like you missed out when talking to your friends who had typical spring breaks--
until you remember that you helped others and really tested yourself and your limits. I think it was an invaluable experience.


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