For this year’s annual Alternative Spring Break trip the Student Volunteer Center took a group of fourteen UCSC students and one faculty advisor to beautiful Miami, Florida. Working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for deserving families was an experience we will remember forever. Traveling to a new location, and thus venturing out of our zones of comfort, enabled us all to grow and learn the new skills and customs of a community different from our own. Although Miami is known for its riches we were able to see a side of it that media rarely exposes.

Going to Miami was an once-in-a-lifetime service-learning opportunity and a chance to gain first hand experience with major socio-economic issues that exist in America today. Miami is a financial epicenter and a leader in commerce, culture, media, entertainment, the arts, and international trade. In 2009, it was ranked as the richest city in the United States. Not every Miami resident, however, shares in the affluence. Miami consistently ranks in the bottom five of cities of more than 250,00 people with the highest poverty rates. Recent census data revealed that almost 100,000 of Miami’s 351,000 residents are living below the poverty level. Being there first hand, we were able to witness the devastating effects of income inequality, an issue that has taken over the public discourse in America.

We spent a total of six days in Miami working, exploring, and eating amazing food! During our first day we became acquainted with the Habitat for Humanity organization and learned what our workdays would consist of. The rest of the day was spent discovering Miami’s special attractions, like beautiful beaches and delicious Cuban coffee. Our leisurely trip soon ended, however, as we began the hard work of drywall installation the next day. With the expert help of our contractor, Gaston, the day went by smoothly and with tons of laughs. The following days we became masters at operating drill guns, installing insulation, painting, putting up walls, and much more. Working side by side on a project that had greater meaning than just building a house brought us together and we formed an unbreakable bond. We were also able to do some site seeing at the end of our work days and each of us left with a souvenir from our new favorite place.

Upon our return back to Santa Cruz, we had gained new experiences, new friendships, and memories to last a lifetime. Besides making great personal growths we also were reminded of what is really important in life, and how much positive energy our world really needs. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity provided us an opportunity to remember why we love to do what we do. Making a difference in someone’s life that looked to us for help was a humbling experience. I know I can speak for everyone when I say that our journey to Miami was an altering experience that will have lasting impacts on our lives for years to come. It was a truly rewarding experience and I encourage any interested UCSC student to apply for next year’s trip! Who knows where we will go next…

-Emily Baize
SVC Intern