UW-Green Bay students: ‘Ain’t nothin’ like ‘em nowhere’

Three-dozen UW-Green Bay students spent their winter break building houses in Birmingham, Ala. The weeklong trip, organized by the UW-Green Bay student chapter of Habitat for Humanity, began on Jan. 8.

For many of the students it was their first Habitat trip, while for others, it was the third or fourth time they had given up a week of their winter break to do community service with Habitat for Humanity. For all the students, however, the Birmingham trip was a special adventure not soon to be forgotten.

After a 15-hour bus ride, the students arrived in Birmingham just in time to experience the worst winter storm to hit the area since 1982. Snow, rain and sleet fell all afternoon and night and literally shut down the city. The students were stranded for nearly two days at the Fairfield Volunteer Center (basically, a church basement with bunk beds and showers), waiting for the weather to break.

Despite the challenges, the UW-Green Bay students’ spirits never sank and their resolve never wavered. They found a place within walking distance of the volunteer center to watch the Packers playoff victory over the Eagles on television Sunday evening. On Monday, they entertained themselves with card games and board games, walks through the abandoned town, and touch football in a neighborhood park. By Tuesday, they were ready to work.

Over the next four days, the students finished enclosing, weather-proofing and insulating the exterior walls of two houses; they hoisted and secured all the roof trusses on both houses; they framed four porches (2 per house) and put all the blocking in the interior walls where the kitchen and bathroom cabinets would eventually be installed. For many of the students, this was the first time they had done anything like this. But their initial hesitancy quickly grew into confidence, and by the end of the week, they were comfortably using skill saws, miter saws, power nail guns, hammers, and reciprocating saws.

A typical day started at 7:30 a.m., with temps in the mid 20’s. It eventually “warmed” to mid 30’s by the afternoon. The ground was frozen in the morning, but by midday, it turned to a sticky red mud that caked their shoes and clothes. The students kept a campfire going at the build site to warm up, but never once complained or hesitated to take on a job or assignment. The work-day typically ended at 3:30, and the students returned to the Volunteer Center for a shower and hot meal prepared by UW-Green Bay Habitat adviser Mike Stearney (dean of enrollment services) and UW-Green Bay graduate student John Arendt, who accompanied the group on the trip to do the daily grocery shopping and cooking.

For their special evening out, the students went to Dreamland BBQ, a Birmingham barbecue restaurant in the true southern tradition. About their famous ribs, Dreamland boasts: “Ain’t nothin’ like ‘em, nowhere.” Turns out that phrase is as true of the UW-Green Bay Habitat students as it is of the food. Tested by adversity, they returned to Green Bay tired, but proud, satisfied and bonded by the new friendships they formed. They are already making plans for the winter break 2012 trip.

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Photos provided by Mike Stearney