Over spring break, eight William and Mary students travelled to Laredo, Texas to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. As the team leader, I coordinated the program with the help of William and Mary Branch Out and the Office of Community Engagement. I was eager to see how the group would bond and develop over the course of the week and how people would enjoy working with Habitat-Laredo. As we started our Branch Out journey, I was clenching the steering wheel of the enormous OCE van on the drive up to Washington, D.C. for our flight. Doubts in my ability and anxieties of the trip circulated in my mind, but I was already driving the van and committed. Then I remembered last year when I co-led a trip of 10 students to Northern Neck-Middlesex Clinic. That was a seminal experience of my time in college; however, this trip was asking more from me because I would be leading it alone and flying halfway across the United States to the U.S.-Mexican border. Although I was well prepared, I reflected on the standard worries and felt a deep sense of responsibility for the health and safety of my team. But in the end, to say the least, the experience was euphoric.
Our team worked on two homes for two families. We became (sort of) experts in fireproofing, siding, woodcutting and more. We bonded with another school, a group of 24 volunteer students from Carlow University. We befriended the wonderful AmeriCorps and local volunteers who guided us on the build site, essentially adopting them into our team. By the end of the week, we had accelerated the progress of delivering two houses to two families waiting to make them their homes.
I will never feel that I do enough service, but I’ve learned that it’s not about limiting your life only to service. It’s about letting those moments of service inspire your next step, whatever it may be.
At the end of each day, our bodies were tired but we never stopped rolling. We spent time with fellow volunteers, visited the Habitat ReStore, and learned line dancing from our Habitat build leaders during a pasta dinner. We even got a border patrol officer to escort us to the U.S.-Mexican border and waved to bystanders on the other side of the Rio Grande. We shared every moment as a group, and I felt so much joy that my heart could have exploded.
A wise person once told me that we live in a narrow window of time. This window is so small that it leaves us only to inhabit a slim instant in the lifespan of the universe. As I reflect on my time at William and Mary, which will always feel too short, I am confronted more than ever before with what I will do with my privileged instant. I don’t have an answer for you today, but Branch Out has shown me how I can use my instant.
Branch Out has afforded me the opportunity to serve others, to engage and connect both on campus and in the world at large. In the process, I’ve learned it’s not about walking away feeling “good” or “important,” but about exchanging laughter, lessons and stories with others to enrich your life. I will never feel that I do enough service, but I’ve learned that it’s not about limiting your life only to service. It’s about letting those moments of service inspire your next step, whatever it may be. Let those moments guide your next conversation, next project or next job, because you never know where it could lead you. I hope to move forward with that mindset and to never stop branching out.
Email Lorraine Pettit at [email protected]