Branch Out Alternative Breaks

Creating a community of active & educated individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice

Laredo to Williamsburg, The Habitat Project

by Amanda Wells

After an educational, and eye-opening trip to Laredo, Texas, our service group returned to Williamsburg, Virginia. In Laredo we did our best to assist with a house build in a Mexican and Mexican-American community. Back in Williamsburg, we continued to work with Habitat for Humanity through the Williamsburg ReStore. ReStore allows families from all financial backgrounds to furnish and personalize their homes. Our team helped with the ReStore’s Annual Fundraiser by selling food and washing cars. Team members advertised on the street, while the rest of us interacted directly with the public. We washed cars for individuals from every socioeconomic background, and every customer donated something for the Habitat cause. The event organizers did everything in their power to support our work today, providing all our cleaning supplies and a hearty lunch for the entire group.

I made a point to reflect on a few observable, crucial similarities between the coordinators we worked with in Laredo and Williamsburg. First, the volunteers came from a wide variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Our common thread was our desire to improve the community at large. Second, the event coordinators in both Laredo and Williamsburg projected positive attitudes the entire time we worked. I realize I am in a lucky position where I have the time and opportunity to help others. The ReStore and Habitat for Humanity are all about rebuilding and empowering communities. Not only is this a rewarding cause, a local volunteer can see the direct impact of their work in the community. I hope I can continue my work with Habitat, rebuilding and serving the community my community and other communities in need.

My ability to provide my service to others comes from a place of privilege within the local community. William and Mary, along with my parents and family, provide the support and opportunities I need to succeed in the world. The least I can do is try and give back to the community I have called home for four years. William and Mary students do not necessarily see or experience the poverty in the Williamsburg community, but it is very real. A commitment to being an active citizen means realizing and understanding inequities in the community, and that we must act to change those inequities. Branch Out made me much more aware of how local work and volunteering have the potential to lift up a community, and I hope William and Mary continues to encourage students to go out into communities and give residents the tools and opportunities they need to flourish.

Author: Melody Porter

Hello blogosphere! While I am a relative newcomer to you, I am a long-time fan of human connection. I used to say that my major in college (above my actual political science & religion double major) was in friendships. Conversations over long meals or late nights on dorm hallway floors have been transformative in my life, and it only makes sense to me to dip my toe into new ways of opening up conversation here. Some details about my life and role at W&M: I have worked at William and Mary since August 2008, and am Associate Director in the Office of Community Engagement. I spend my time fostering student leadership in the broad areas of alternative breaks and local anti-poverty initiatives. Doing so lets me fulfill what I understand my calling to be about: working for social justice in the world, and equipping others to do so with skill, sensitivity and great love. And my pre-W&M life... I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion from Emory University in 1995. After graduating, I decided to get further into the world of community development and service. I served as a long-term volunteer for three years, beginning a job development program in Philadelphia and working with preschool children in Johannesburg, South Africa. I came back to Emory to earn a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology in 2001, with a focus in religious education. I spent a frenetic and exciting year working four jobs - from TA'ing a preaching class with Tom Long, to catering barbecue, to managing a nonprofit family literacy program with immigrant and refugee families. I went on from there to be Associate Minister at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, working in areas of social justice and community development, and directing an after school program that served more than 100 high school students. Finally, it was one more stop at Emory - where I served for three years as director of Volunteer Emory, a student-led department for community service. Through all of my professional and volunteer experiences, and life in general, I have seen how connected and interdependent people and communities are everywhere I believe in the power of mutual service to transform lives and create social change. I also love cheese fries.

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