Florida International University Kicks Off AWB 2018

The first Alternative Breaks volunteers of 2018 arrived in New Orleans just in time for an historic cold snap. Though the city regularly has lows in the 40s in January, this year saw multiple days with below-freezing weather–right in time for the students of Florida International University in Miami to start their build week. Despite the unusual weather, the students adjusted and made a difference on a home in the Upper Ninth.

“It’s definitely a challenge, especially because we come from Miami,” said Gaby Ruyz. “We don’t know cold weather. We don’t have long sleeves. We are always in summer mode. It’s nice, though. We would be sweating if it was summer, so either way, we have to adjust to the temperature. It’s the first day, but it’s been so fun, especially to share with the other girls. We’re so close, and we know each other so well. We all feel very comfortable with each other.”

As sisters of Alpha Omicron Pi, the students are used to service work. Their main focus is juvenile arthritis, and they do fundraising and other support events throughout the year. Site leader Gaby Ruyz heard about Alternative Breaks trips from other students and liked the sound of them, so she convinced her sisters to sign up.

“We get to come as sorority sisters and as friends, and we get to share this experience together,” Gaby said. “We signed up [for Alternative Breaks] because I’ve heard so many people go to so many different cities and have such an amazing experience. It was eye-opening and life-changing, and I think a lot of us haven’t had the chance to get out of our comfort zone. We can give back in a way we don’t get to do every day, so hearing about how the program was so well liked around school encouraged us to apply. So many girls applied, we had such a hard time picking the group.”

“I did it last year, and I really enjoyed it,” said Michelle Soler, another student leader on the trip. “I did work with homelessness but not through Alpha Omicron Pi. I dediced to do it again, but with a new community partner.”

The home they were working on, which will one day be bought by Lauren Duhe, is in the middle stages of construction, with siding and interior detail work being the focus.

“We’ve been doing a little bit of everything,” Michelle said. “Putting in nails, puttying, and now we’re actually nailing the boards in.”

“It’s a lot of physical work, but anyone can do it if you’re taught the right way,” Gaby said. “There’s really good leaders who take us step by step. There’s a lot of little things on the insude of the house that you wouldn’t think you have to do, but we are helping to get it all done.”

Like many new volunteers, they weren’t accustomed to putting up siding ten feet in the air. Once they got going, a lot of work was done, but their first nail in the exterior wall was a small victory.

“We finally got the nail into the board,” said Michelle. “It was a little bit difficult because the ladder goes so high and the hammer’s so heavy, but we finally got it in, so it was a little bit of a celebration.”

Beyond learning the right ways to put up siding, they took away deeper lessons from the build site:

“I think we’ve learned how blessed we are,” said Gaby. “How we take so many things for granted because there’s so many people that don’t have adequate shelter or a place to call home. I think it relaly oepned our eyes already. We had to do a lot of different stuff that we never thought we’d do. We learned how much it takes.”