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Marie Grace’s Alternative Spring Break: A Q&A

Marie Grace’s Alternative Spring Break: A Q&A

SHE-CAN staff called Muhlenberg senior Marie Grace Imanariyo to discuss her spring break trip with Habitat for Humanity, where she helped paint the houses of families in need in Broward County, Florida. On the trip, she learned about the positive outcomes that can occur when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Note to reader: This trip occurred in early March, before most states had self-isolation orders. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SHE-CAN: Can you tell me more about your trip and why you decided to sign up?
Marie Grace: I went on an Alternative Spring Break volunteering program with Habitat for Humanity in Broward County, Florida. 14 of us from Muhlenberg spent a week there working on painting a house for a family in need. We worked with groups from two other colleges and also had enough time to do some sightseeing and exploring in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

I did the same type of spring break trip last year in Corpus Christi, Texas and absolutely loved it. I knew right away I wanted to do another Alternative Spring Break my senior year. I love Habitat for Humanity’s whole model and using my strength and energy to work with others on contributing to someone’s life who really needs the help.


Painting ceilings was one of her primary tasks

PictureMarie Grace and Ornella, her SHE-CAN little sister and fellow Muhlenberg student

SHE-CAN: In your pictures, I see that Ornella was on the trip with you as well! How did that happen?
Marie Grace: We both went on the Corpus Christi trip last year, and agreed that we had to apply again! There were trips to two different locations this year, so we weren’t sure that we’d be placed in the same group. When we got our placements, I was so excited to be matched with my little sister Nella!
It honestly would not have been the same without her, she is a bundle of happiness. It’s impossible to get bored when she’s around!

SHE-CAN: Where did you stay? What did you all do in the evenings?

Marie Grace: We all stayed in a campground with cabins. It was nice because it was a five-minute walk from the beach. We all cooked together in a cabin that was the designated dining hall. On Friday, we made beans and rice which reminded me of being home in Rwanda!

The time we spent making dinner was used for reflection on our days. Two of the Muhlenberg kids also went on the Corpus Christi trip last year, so I got to reconnect with them. It was great to leave campus and connect with new people in a new city while bonding over a common experience.

Marie Grace and a fellow Muhlenberg student working on painting!

SHE-CAN: Did you meet the families whose houses were being worked on? What was that like?
Marie Grace: Oh, that was by far the best part! The two families came to dinner with us on Thursday night. Each family was a mom and her kids, who were all very grateful. Everyone wanted to say hi to them, even if they only got a minute to do so because there were so many of us.
SHE-CAN: Did you learn anything new–about being a leader or giving back?
Marie Grace: A lot of the tasks we were completing were things I had never done before. Every day was a new day and I would constantly ask myself, “How can I do this better?” I worked with others to paint the ceilings and two bathrooms, which required a lot of attention to detail.

I tried to foster a positive environment and cheered people on when we were tired, and they did the same to me. We all had the opportunity to be role models for each other.
There were a lot of decisions we had to make as a group. I used my leadership skills by asking clarifying questions to ensure that everyone got to participate in activities and tasks that they wanted to do. I think in this type of situation, when people are tired and confused, looking at both sides is always appreciated.
SHE-CAN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Marie Grace: Yes! To all of my SHE-CAN little sisters—if there’s an opportunity for you to go off campus and contribute, don’t make excuses, just DO IT. You can be so much more impactful when you’re challenging yourself and you go outside of your comfort zone. Seek out these opportunities at your school.

The whole Muhlenberg group!

I wish I could go on this trip again, which is why I’m encouraging all of you to do something similar. Get away from campus and push yourself. You will be surprised by how much you will grow!