Samantha Ericson Alternative Spring Break 2019

Until today, I didn’t know how exhausting painting a house can be. I knew when applying for this trip it was going to be a struggle to adjust to keeping a schedule during breaks, but I underestimated how much work goes into painting an off-white wall white. Seeing the house, however, and knowing the history of its owner, I couldn’t help but think about change.

The owner of the house had been living in it for fifty years before Sandy destroyed it. When I heard the representative from the Saint Bernard Project explain this, I understood why he wanted to stay. Their home was probably where he built their history. Fifty years is half a century — and that small fact hit me hard. It’s millions of memories. In a way, the house became personal to me. I thought of the new layout and how it probably significantly differs from their previous home. The interior itself was modern, and I wondered how much of a change this man could take. While still being incredibly thankful, I know how hard significant changes can be.

Another significant change to the house is that its height. Since it is being built up to current code, it is currently elevated on stilts and only accessible via stairs. Since the owner, I also wondered how their mobility will affect their ability to get in and out of their house — and if that becomes the reason he has to leave after fighting for their house for seven years.

Going through the change of losing my mother, I’ve dealt with my own home transforming and it wasn’t an easy transformation. From having to add a ramp for her to leave for her chemotherapy appointments to when my father bought new furniture for the living room and I vehemently protested because I couldn’t emotionally handle the change.

I wanted to go on Alternative Spring Break not only so I could get more involved in community service, but also because I remembered the privilege of having a home to go home to if I needed to. I wanted to give people their home backs and I really hope this man loves their new house and can find their home in it.

I was asked to connect today to the topic of race and class. I think that the house we worked on distinguishes class because our owner relies on the St. Bernard Project to get their new house while others might have had the funding to rebuild quickly, whether privately or through better FEMA relief. FEMA rewarding on a benefit-cost scale greatly separates who gets more money, and it keeps the divide on the richer getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The first thing everyone deserves after an event like Sandy is home, but it’s been seven years and many people still don’t have that because of their race and/or their class. I hope my house’s owner finds a new home that can last them the rest of their life, but in case of another event like Sandy, I hope that this house can survive it for those who need it in the years to come.