As a junior at UNH, I look forward to spring break every year as a chance to relax and take a break from the homework that has always accumulated by this point in the semester. Aside from the change of pace, I look forward to spring break as a chance to take part in an incredible student-run program at UNH: Alternative Break Challenge (ABC). UNH ABC is a program that plans and orchestrates community service-oriented spring break trips for UNH students. The trips typically send students to the South and, in a few cases, the Midwest, to aid with Habitat for Humanity work, child care, or trail maintenance. This year, a trip to Kentucky also worked with an equestrian center as a different form of community service. I was abroad in London my sophomore spring and could not participate in an ABC trip, but the other two I have been able to take have been amazing experiences.
My first ABC trip, a Habitat for Humanity trip to Anniston, Alabama, was in the spring of 2012. Although I was nervous to spend about 25 hours in a white twelve-passenger van with eight upperclassmen I didn’t know, I found that the daunting car ride was in reality a great way to get to know the students I would be working with for the week. A huge plus was also the fact that we were able to stop in Philadelphia on the way to Alabama for the best cheese-steak subs I’ve ever tasted. The week in Alabama was amazing (and warm!) Under the supervision of professional carpenters, we began working on a house that was only in its foundation stage when we arrived and had all the structural components of a house, including a plywood roof, when we left the following Friday.
My group was friendly and we bonded over various card games, free dinners at the homes of other Habitat volunteers, and construction experiences throughout the course of the week. We even decided to give up our day off to finish putting the plywood roof on the house instead of relaxing by the pond. As we left on the last day and Karla, the woman whose house we were building, cried tears of joy and sent us off with cookies, I could truly appreciate the great difference I had made in just a week of construction on her house. Throughout the rest of the semester I was happy to see the friends I had made on the ABC trip at UNH and kept updated on the progress of Karla’s house via Facebook.
My second ABC experience was a trail maintenance trip to Dahlonega, Georgia this past spring break. Just as I expected, I absolutely loved my trip. My group was a lot of fun and we lived in a small cabin on the top of a mountain in Dahlonega for the week. Throughout our time in the cabin we overcame some obstacles, namely that our toilet broke for two days and the cabin was so tiny that all ten of us slept in one living room, but aside from that the cabin was cozy and felt like home by the end of the week.
During the day we did trail work on the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail with a hilarious group of retired hikers representing GATC, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. In order to maintain the trail we used tools to make “water bars,” barricades made of either rocks or tree trunks, to alter the flow of water and prevent erosion. We also constructed rock staircases and did maintenance on the privies used by campers and hikers. It was hard work, but definitely rewarding – especially since we were able to hike a lot and I am an avid hiker myself. During the course of the day we often saw through hikers who were at the beginning of the long trek from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Talking to the through hikers and hearing their stories was always interesting, and we even encountered a woman from Dover, NH and a few UNH alumni! On our day off my group explored Atlanta and we were able to stop at typical southern restaurants – such as a Waffle House – on our trips around Georgia.
It was sad to leave at the end of the week, but as with my first ABC trip I was happy to have had the experience and met some excellent people along the way. I would definitely recommend an ABC trip to anyone who enjoys adventures, community service, and making new friends!
For more information about UNH Alternative Break Challenge, visit:
For more information about Habitat for Humanity:
For more information about the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club: