by Emily Messina, Class of 2019
When people think of Tennessee, they think of Nashville. Though I have never been before, I have had a desire to visit the country music hotspot. Luckily enough, I recently had the opportunity to travel down south to Tennessee. However, it wasn’t to the bustling city, but to the eastern part of the state, near the Smoky Mountains. I traveled with twenty other students to the secret city of Oak Ridge. I was there to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity, but there ended up being much more to this trip then just a hammer and nails.
I initially decided to go on a Habitat trip to try something different for my spring break. I like the concept of their organization and I also enjoy hands-on service opportunities.
When we first touched down in Oak Ridge, we went to the site where we would be staying, a really nice basement in a Baptist Church. They even provided mattresses for us to sleep on. In addition, our affiliate was able to get in touch with members of the community to provide us with all of our meals. I was surprised and humbled by the generosity of this community. Restaurants offered us free meals, families opened their homes to 20 teenagers, and churches of different denominations invited and welcomed us in. To me this was so inspiring and motivating as we began our workdays.
The construction manager was very happy to have us and was also very patient in explaining and organizing. When we went to the worksite, the volunteers were all much older than I expected. They were all retired engineers with multiple PhD’s who had never done construction before their time with Habitat. I connected with them early on because I love to hear about other people’s life stories. In turn, they taught me how to put shingles on a roof, put siding on a house, re-tile a floor, and use a power saw efficiently. I quickly took over the position with the saw, out of pure thrill and because I was actually pretty decent with it.
The process was slow moving and the workers were perfectionists, which was tough for me to handle because I live life in the fast lane. I’m always on the go, doing multiple things at once, and not really looking back. They taught me to stay focused and pay attention to the small things. They checked and double checked before they cut things, questioned each other when they were unsure, and never let any detail slip through the cracks.
I learned from these men some really important things in the process of building a house. But I also learned how to slow down and take a step back. They showed me how to see the importance of details and the significance of the overall picture. Because they wanted the house to be completely perfect, they were constantly focused and always precise. While initially tough to adapt to because of my high energy and hasty manner, it was a good lesson for not only this trip, but for my whole life.
Especially as a Media and Communication Studies major, I think this is a very crucial skill to learn. When shooting footage or editing video clips, it is vital to keep trying until everything is exactly the way I want it to be. I need to hit the brakes sometime and reevaluate where I am going and what is my ultimate goal.
I wasn’t thoroughly convinced that this experience was going to change my life, as everyone else claims it does when they return from Habitat service work. But while I don’t think that the trip led to some outrageous epiphany that transformed me, I do believe that I learned a lot about how to connect and form relationships with others. I witnessed a true and immense form of giving, experienced a way to slow down and take a look at the big picture, and, of course, acquired the skills to use a power saw.