So while my college peers prepared for spring break by packing suitcases filled with bikinis and sunglasses for days of lounging on the hot, sunny beach and mini skirts to wear for parties which no doubt would last all night, I was preparing for my spring break by packing a suitcase filled with work boots, over-sized t-shirts, and quite possibly the most un attractive sweatshirts I have ever owned, needless to say I was in for a very different type of spring break experience!
I had applied earlier in the semester to the Alternative Spring Break program at my school, this program allows students the opportunity to travel to a location in the US and do volunteer work. Upon acceptance into the program we were given an option regarding where we wanted to travel to, I selected Georgia as I have always wanted the opportunity to explore more of the south!
My group was headed down to Clarksville, Georgia to do volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity. Our assignment included working on a very depressed habitat house which had suddenly become abandoned and was left in very bad conditions.
Despite having two months of meetings in preparation for our trip to Georgia, our group left Boston as a very awkward, distant, and un talkative bunch! However, that quickly changed as we formed fast friendships within hours of landing in Georgia by bonding over our shared exhaustion. ( We had woken up at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, the same Sunday as daylight saving time meaning that in reality most of us had actually woken up at 1:30 a.m. Due to a day full of traveling, a pit stop at the worlds largest aquarium in Atlanta, and a quick side stop for dinner, we didn’t go to sleep until 11:30, making it a very long day)!
Early the next morning we got started by working on the house. The house was a mess, old forgotten clothes, trash, and furniture cluttered every square inch of space, making walking through the house difficult, In addition the house reeked making it clear that the house had not been well kept. There was a hole in the porch outside, smoke stained walls and ceilings, and a thick layer of dirt coating just about everything. We got started by cleaning everything out of the house and quickly filled up a dumpster, although we still had a lot to do, we were quickly making progress!
(This is a picture of the Basement, look at the progress made from the morning to the afternoon)
Now although working on the house was hard work, Billy, the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Northeast Georgia made it his mission to ensure we had some fun too.
Billy is one of the most generous and kind hearted people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He arranged sleeping accommodations for us at the Athens Y camp, which was absolutely scenic and overlooked a gorgeous lake.
He organized activities for us to take part in to give us the opportunity to become better acquainted with the local community.
And he took care of all our meals, including delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, in fact looking back now it seems that any time not spent working was spent eating!
Not only did Billy work with local community businesses to sponsor lunches for the group but he also arranged for us to eat with a family in their home each night of the week!
Never before have I experienced such amazing hospitality from individuals as I had on this trip. Strangers openly welcomed our group of 13 to their gorgeous homes ( I am talking homes that looked like they belonged in Country Home Magazine), they prepared delicious meals for us, made an assertive effort to get to know each of us individually, and even sent us home with goodie bags! Everyone was so kind and appreciative of the work we were doing.
Although all the meals we had were delicious one of my favorite meals was the Brunswick stew we had for lunch, it had been specially made for us by Billy’s daughters soccer team and it was amazing. The stew was hearty and chock full of a variety of meat such as chicken, pork, and beef. I will definitely be trying to replicate this recipe!
Of course those hush puppies which accompany just about every restaurant meal aren’t too bad either!
After a week full of hard work and a lot of progress made on the house including a newly fixed porch, a cleaned and painted basement, and freshly painted ceilings we were given a day off, it happened to be a beautiful sunny day so our group decided to go hiking at Tallulah Falls State Park, where we would have the opportunity to see beautiful waterfalls.
Let me begin by saying this was not the hike I expected, initially I thought it would be a hike down a dirt path, maybe up a few hills, never did I think it would be nearly as strenuous or exhausting as it was. The first part of the hike required as to walk down hundreds of very steep wire steps, which could easily make you dizzy if you concentrated too hard, we then walked across a bridge and then jumped from rock to rock to get an up close look at the beautiful streams.
Although the streams were beautiful almost everyone regretted the trip we had made down because we were then faced with the burden of climbing back up those steep steps which we had climbed down…needless to say there was quite a bit of huffing and puffing..and some burning from muscles I didn’t even know I had!
The second part of the hike required that we get on all fours and carefully rock climb down the side of a very steep hill, once again the view when we finally reached our destination was beautiful but the way back up wasn’t so great! Luckily though our group was very motivating and encouraging towards each other making the otherwise torturous hike, enjoyable!
That night was our final night in Georgia and Billy arranged for us to have a special meal with his lovely family at a very famous Georgia Restaurant, The Dillard House.
This restaurant has quite an interesting concept, they prepare southern favorites based on seasonal ingredients. However the real kicker is the vast quantity of food that they serve. Each day a daily menu is created, it’s comprised of a selection of meats, vegetables, seafood dishes, and desserts, this menu is quite large and is posted in the lobby of the restaurant.
Upon being seated in the large and country decorated dining room the server brings out every single item on the menu to the table, guests are able to ask for refills of any item and take home left overs…talk about a dangerous situation for any food lover!
Of course I wanted to be able to write a worthy blog post for all you curious readers about the southern style cuisine, so I had to do a bit research and taste test everything, once or twice. We were served country ham, which is a cured salty ham, which is then smoked, quite good, but be warned you will be quite thirsty after eating. There was fried chicken, fried cat fish, fried shrimp, fried okra (are you sensing a pattern here), lima beans, country steak, corn bread, biscuits, green beans, buttery corn on the cob, butternut squash souffle, and key lime pie, buttermilk pie, and berry cobbler. Everything was fabulous and no doubt disgustingly fatty and filled with calories, if it wasn’t fried then it was dripping in butter. Although I doubt all southerners eat like this on a daily basis…..I did enjoy trying an authentic Southern style meal…although the next day I officially began my diet!
When I travel I am not too fond of doing the touristy things, I become bored with museums quite quickly, I don’t enjoy eating out at overpriced restaurants, and I certainly will never be caught dead with a map and camera in my hand…I’d rather get lost then look like the stereotypical tourist cliche. I prefer rather to integrate into the local culture and I feel like I was able to do that during my trip to Georgia!
This trip has been amazing, the work we did was rewarding, the people we met were all so genuine and kind and having the opportunity to know them gave me the confidence to believe that although I may not always witness it, there are some truly wonderful, kind and selfless people in this world. and Finally the group I traveled with and worked with was so inspiring.I originally joined the ASB program and didn’t know a single soul in my group, we were thirteen individuals but during our time in Georgia we became a family and I am now returning to Boston with twelve new friends and memories to last a lifetime.