Puerto Rico A.S.B. — Day 5

Puerto Rico – Alternative Spring Break 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hola friends,

Last night’s reflection was led by Tony Tedesco, Brittany Smail  and Michelle Godzinski followed by Marissa Morrissette and Mark Sanford. The first reflection was pushed back to Tuesday because we did not have time. The first  reflection was tie-dye T-shirts, which was part of a social event.  The group wrote each others last names along with a message on the shirts and puffy paint on the front of the shirts with “ASB 2013 Puerto Rico” and other sayings. Marissa and mark’s reflection consisted of deco pots. They brought newspaper that they gave to the group to have them cut out unique letters and paste them onto the pot.

Photos from reflection:


Wednesday was another beautiful day. The group divided into two, one of the groups stayed at Pleintud and the other went to Las Marias where they helped at the elder center.  The group actually taught the dance move “Cotton-Eyed Joe” to the elders at the center and they helped establish a garden, thanks to the engineering students in the group.

The group at the farm split into three groups and worked on various projects around the farm including natural building, installing a outhouse and terraces (help channel water from the road). (see pictures below) When siesta came around at 1:30 p.m., some of the group relaxed on the hammocks while others went to the river and had a cool and relaxing afternoon.

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On Wednesday night, the group ventured to go see the bioluminescence in the water. We caught our boat at 8:15 p.m. and enjoyed a night out on the town.

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One of the group members mentioned that he no longer felt we were just friends. He said, “This group is no longer friends; this group is family.”

This is completely true! This group, as a whole, has learned together, sweated together, laughed together, sang together, and grown from random students to family.

WE ARE… Alternative Spring Break

WE ARE… Reality Check

WE ARE… Friends

WE ARE more importantly… Family.


— Jon, Ian & Lauren


Puerto Rico A.S.B. — Day 4

Tuesday, March 5, 2013
This morning’s breakfast included porridge, which was delicious. It was another day of hard work at another organic farm in Puerto Rico.

After the drive to the farm we got started quickly. Dr. Brian Bruner had many different tasks for us including putting plants along side a mountain, a trench for good farm use and a trench for a retaining wall and filling in dirt around given areas.

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Lauren Smith’s group was in charge of the trench at the cottage. This job involved using a lot of arm strength and digging an 18 x 18 trench that would be used to help with the farm. Jon’s group was responsible for digging trenches that would be used for a reflecting wall and digging up and moving dirt.

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Once the work was done, Dr. Brian Brunner bought the group pizza for working so hard. The group got to enjoy some pepperoni, sausage and veggie pizza.

After the group finished eating we all sat down and had a great discussion led by Dr. Brunner about why organic growing is so important and how lead a healthy life with healthy eating habits. We all took away a great deal of knowledge after keeping an open mind!

We then split up into two groups and adventured around the farm. One group went on a hiking trip with Dr. Brunner to the top of a really tall mountain where we were able to over look parts of the island. It was a breath taking view and an adventure to say the least, with Gabe clearing the path to the top along the way.  The other group of students took a shorter hike to cool down in the river.

On the way back from the mountain hike a couple of us were walking down the driveway to meet the rest of the group when Gabe spotted a horse on the side of the road. Offered the chance to finally fulfill one of his dreams, he hopped on the horse (after three attempts) and went trotting down the road for a horse ride.

It was a very exciting day that left everyone tired, but our day was not over yet. We got back to Plenitud and had another delicious meal waiting for us—pasta with marinara sauce with fresh vegetables and a fresh salad. We are definitely being spoiled with all of these homemade meals.

After dinner two members of Plenitud told us all about natural building and the different methods. It left many of us thinking about our future homes and how we should build it once we get our “grown up” jobs.

There were two reflections done tonight, one was led by Marissa and Mark, the other was done by Brittany, Tony, and Michelle. We decorated our tie dye T-shirts and decorated pots to remember our trip and all the amazing people who were apart of it.

It’s getting late here and is not time to get some well deserved sleep. Goodnight from Puerto Rico where the stars are as beautiful at night as they are back home.


— Jon, Ian & Lauren

Puerto Rico A.S.B. – Day 3

Puerto Rico – Alternative Spring Break 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

By Jon Wolff, president, Reality Check

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It is a  hot, hot, and hotter day on the farm. Our minds are clear and calm thanks to starting off the day with some yoga outside. Other students’ minds are clear and calm thanks to the extra sleep that they got!

Breakfast was prepared by our wonderful Plenitud staff members and served by a couple of our students. We have been taking turns preparing and cleaning up for each meal. We’re really getting good at team work.

After getting our water bottles filled up and loading up on sunscreen we were taken on a tour of the property  of the  farm and were able to see the different projects that they are working on. The group really liked the chicken coop and  decided we need some on our campus to have our own fresh eggs every day!

Around 2:30pm all of the students starting working on two projects that we (Lauren, Ian, and Jon) are late for and headed to now! Gotta get to work. Check in for more tomorrow. Until our next venture up to the building where we write the blog (below), see everyone later!


WE ARE…. Reality Check!


— Jon, Ian & Lauren

Photos, photos, photos

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Puerto Rico A.S.B. – Day 2

Puerto Rico – Alternative Spring Break 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

By Jon Wolff, president, Reality Check

It was definitely a different kind of morning waking up on the farm here in Puerto Rico. Instead of a phone alarm, nature was our nice wake up call with birds chirping and the rooster crowing.

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The rooster was not only a morning alarm, it also was a surprising alarm around 3:30a.m. Getting ready for the morning was done all out in the wilderness. There are two outdoor showers and two sinks over looking all of the farm area which all 27 of us are sharing (see pix below).

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Boys’ tents

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Girls’ tents

A few members of the Plenitud staff had breakfast all ready to go for us as soon as we were all ready. Puerto Rico sure knows how to make some oatmeal! Breakfast included homemade oatmeal with fresh island fruit, a special island tea, and coffee. After breakfast we gathered up our stuff, put our swimsuits on and were off to the beach.

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The name of the beach we went to was called Playa Sucia, which in English actually means dirty beach in order to keep tourists away.  Fortunately, it did not keep us away; we were soaking up the sun and enjoying the clear crystal blue water.

We were joined by two Plenitud staff members that provided us with a delicious lunch! Some of us headed over to explore the rocks overlooking the water, while others took a hike up to the lighthouse. After a lot of sun and a lot of fun we took our vans back on the windy roads of Puerto Rico and went back to the farm to clean up and shower.

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Niloofar and Aaron. Aaron got sunburned, so Niloofar applied natural aloe.

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We had dinner on the farm which is all vegetarian with some of the food coming right from the farm. We’re learning how to eat healthier!

It was a day of beautiful scenery and some more great bonding time. Today bandanas were given out to each of the teams. The idea was thought up by Marissa and Jon to get each team in a “survivor mode” and just to keep some sweat off of our faces!

Our night ended with a great reflection led by the advisors and then……blessed SLEEP!

2013 ASB adventure begins Saturday

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Two dozen students from Penn State Behrend’s Realty Check club and four advisors are leaving Saturday (March 2) to spend their spring break serving others in Puerto Rico.

The group is working with Plenitud de Puerto Rico Inciatives Ecodeducativas — a nonprofit organization that suports individuals and communities in their sustainable development by providing training, demonstrations, and services in organic farming, biocontstruction, and other sustainable and permaculture practice.

Students will be taking part in a variety of activities, including mulching, applying organic fertilizer, pruning, topography, and planting. In addition, students will be learning about natrual building and serving at the elder center for senior citizens.

Since Plenitud is an organic organization focused on sustainability and because all bathing water eventually runs into the river or forest, students were required to buy natural and organic products that would not harm the environment.  Students will also be eating vegetarian for the week as Plenitud does not serve meat.

Students leave Erie on Saturday, March 2 and will return on Friday, March 8.

Follow them here on this blog where we’ll post regular updates and photos from Reality Check president, Jon Wolff.

~ Heather Cass, Penn State Behrend publications & design coordinator 

Students & advisers attending:

Students: Alec Bovee, Chris Desmond, Nicole Donaldson, Brandon Dye, Niloofar Ghaysi, Michelle Godzinski, Aaron Hecht, John Klecha, Krishna Kulkarni, Gabe Lemock, Paul Lukasik, Lydia Maharg, Brittany Martinelli, Marissa Morrissette, Miri Ohashi, Jennifer Prechtl, Mark Sanford, Brittany Smail, Lauren Smith — V.P. of Reality Check, Anthony Tedesco, Kyle VanDusen, Stephen Vollentine, Jon Wolff —President of Reality Check, and Amanda Wylie.

Advisers: Ian McGinnity, Assistant Director, Civic Engagement and The Smith Chapel; Amanda Blaugher, Coordinator of Residence Life; Courtney Steding, Internship Counselor, Academic Career and Planning Center; Maya Pillay, Staff Assistant and SGA Financial Advisor

Thanks for your support

Alternative Spring Break is sponsored by Reality Check, the Center For Service, the Student Activity Fee, the Student Government Association, and the Janet Neff Sample Center for Manners and Civility.

In addition, the group held many fundraisers and teambuilding events throughout the year.

Reality Check’s Event Chair, Marissa Morrissette and Nicole Donaldson planned social events for the ASB group. Marissa Morrissette planned a trip to the Erie Otter’s game so the group could have fun, relax and get to know one another a bit better. Nicole Donaldson planned a Tye Dye T-Shirt social event as part of a reflection that will be used down in Puerto Rico.

Fundraising efforts included canning at local restaurants, carwashes, and much more:


ASB funraising

Reality Check would like to thank all of those who supported their fundraising efforts in the past year, helping them raise the money needed to help others.

Day 4 — Last work day

By Jon Wolff

Thursday night, we all went to a karaoke bar, called Hillbilly’s, for our night out. It started out slow since there weren’t many people there besides us, but then it started becoming increasingly crowded and lively. Many of the students danced and sang karaoke and just generally enjoyed themselves.

Last work day is bittersweet

Much to the students’ dismay, Thursday was our last work day at the site. The general consensus is that no one wants to go home. Everyone loves Texas, and we have enjoyed the work we’ve been doing. A few of us were even joking about planting a Penn State campus here in Mission! (Penn State Behrend South? LOL).

It was a very special day because we presented the family with the food and the gift card we were giving them to to buy necessities. We also presented each child with a new pair of shoes, and we had a birthday present for the youngest girl in the family, whose birthday was a few days ago. We also gave the family a decorated picture frame that was signed by everyone in the group.

In order to show their appreciation for all of our hard work this week, the grandmother of the family arranged with a close friend to bring us a whole Mexican feast complete with fajitas, nachos, rice, beans, salsa, tortilla chips, and vegetables. We were all very thankful for the food. It was delicious, and we all sat down and enjoyed the meal on-site.

Su Casa de Esperanza – Visit 2

Another small group of students, led  by Nicole Fedders, went to Su Casa de Esperanza today. The people who went were Stephen Galdo, John Klecha, Samantha Vertosick, Jenna Abate, Jessie Monteleone, and Chasity Wilson. The group worked with kids between the ages of 1 and 2. Thjey listened to their reading time, then helped read stories to them, as well as helped them with their vocabulary and numbers and naming objects in English.

They also played games with the children and helped participate in motor skills development activities with them. Some of the group also went on home visits out in the community to the homes of pregnant women, or women with children below the age of one year to see how well the families adapt culturally and developmentally.

Though their experience at Su Casa was different than that of the students who went on Tuesday, it was an extremely enriching experience for the students, who faced more cultural challenges because they were working with people who spoke little (or no) English, and the students really had to use their Spanish language skills to communicate.

Kids make hard work fun

From Tuesday on, we began building relationships with the kids in the family, but today was definitely the best day of the week in terms of interactions with the kids. Their smiles and laughter are infectious and we all took turns chasing them around and playing basketball with them, giving them piggyback rides, and just generally having fun with them.

And…yet, there was work to be done

Though we took breaks to play with the kids, none of us wanted to stop working on the house, whether it was to take a five-minute break to eat, drink or use the restrooms, or to stop and take a group photo. It was as if everyone just couldn’t wait to get back to their work and finish what they were doing, all in an effort to get as much finished on the house as possible.

It was amazing to see how dedicated the students were to finishing their work so they could truly make a difference in this family’s life.  We are all so unbelievably proud of each other, and so glad that we all built such strong friendships, work ethics, and love for serving others this week.

Today was spent finishing nailing shingles on the roof that we’ve been working on all week, as well as finishing installing drywall and smoothing out the rough patches and the seams in the walls. We’re all so amazed at the amount of work we got done in just four days! The house is well on its way to being repaired.

 Reflection time – It’s all good

Our reflection tonight focused on what we all thought of the entire week and all that we did. We were asked if there was anything negative about this week, and we really couldn’t come up with anything negative.

When asked about the positive things, though,  everyone talked about how proud they are of each other, how much work we accomplished, and how we really reached out and touched the lives of the people in the family we did the work for.

As part of the reflection, the students were asked to write down a memory or a good thing about each and every one of the other students in our group, and put the slips of paper in a paper bag that we wrote our names on and decorated. This is a nice way for us to look back and remember this trip, and to especially remember the relationships and community we built this week.


Thank you!

With that said, thank you so much for checking in on our progress, and thank you to everyone who helped us and provided us with the opportunity to go on this trip.

It has been an unforgettable week, and I know I will definitely remember this for a long time. We hope that all the things we have learned this week will carry on into our lives as we travel back to Erie and go back to Penn State Behrend.

We also hope that everyone is inspired by what we did this week and that they, too, will take the desire to sacrifice oneself in order to better the world and serve people out into the world. Let’s face it, there’s a world in need out there and it’s right here in America — not just in other countries like we see on TV commercials, but right in our own country, and in our own backyards. And it’s incredible how doing something so small, such as chasing a child around a messy work site or installing some drywall can truly touch lives.

Again, we thank everyone who made this possible.

 Behrend bound

Friday’s agenda will be to wake up and be ready to go by 9 a.m. We’ll have a short information session from the border patrol and will be returning the rental cars by 2:30 p.m.  Our flight out of McAllen, Texas,  is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Parting thoughts

On behalf of Alternative Spring Break and the e-board for Reality Check, I would formally like to thank everyone for making this trip possible. I would also like to thank Melanie Koster for helping me with the blog(being  a former English major, she knew what to say)!

It has been an honor and a privilege to tell our story to all of you.  We the ASB 2012 group are a family and the bond we have all made in the last few days will remain strong and with us forever.

To the parents: As a resident service leader and president of Reality Check (community service based student organization at Penn State Behrend,  I hope that your son or daughter will remain true to the core with helping others out and giving back to those in need. I hope they walk away from this trip with the knowledge that they are blessed and continue to give back as a reminder of this trip and its impact.  I would like to thank the parents of each and every one of the students on the alternative spring break trip. Your sons and daughters played a vital role in the entire group and made a positive impact on me.

Community service has always been a part of my life and will remain to be a part of my life throughout my academic career at Penn State Behrend. Thank you for following us along our journey from Erie to Texas and back. I would also like to thank my parents for believing in me and constantly pushing me to be a better person,  leader, and encourager.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog as much as we have enjoyed helping out while down in Texas. I hope you understand that we in fact did have an enjoyable and relaxing spring break and even though we didn’t get to go to beaches for a week or hang with friends. The moments we made together and the hearts that we touched will remain with us forever. We started out as strangers but ended as friends and, really, that’s all I could have ever asked for.

One final we are…


~ Jon

Reality Check- President

Photography Club- President

Resident Service Leader – Ohio/Almy Hall

Lion Entertainment Board- Comedy Chair
“For the Glory”

Day 3 — The “family” that roofs together…

By Jon Wolff

Hello friends and family!

I would first like to say, you should  be very proud of each and every one of the students on this trip, and, parents, you should feel blessed to have such dedicated and inspiring sons and daughters. They are the foundation for this trip and each and every one of them has become a leader and encourager.

This trip has changed each student, physically and mentally. It has given all of us a deeper apprecation for our normal day lives and for our families who have lead us through life and not given up on us. As the ASB Presdient, I’d like to thank the parents for giving me the chance to meet their student and for allowing them  to come on this trip with Penn State Behrend.

After our story ran in The Monitor newspaper down here, we started getting calls from residents asking if they can come to the job site and help out. We have made our mark here in Mission, Texas!

Tuesday night

Some of the students went out on the town while other students went to a local fair to ride a few rides and then, they made a stop at IHOP.  It was fun and the spontaneous decision to stop and eat made the trip and night on the town enjoyable.

I think I speak for all of us when I say we no longer feel as though we are just 23 students and 4 advisers on this trip. Now, we are a family with a single heartbeat. We function as one and we spend every moment working and bonding together. A lady at IHOP actually stopped the group as we were leaving to ask us what we were doing in Texas. We told her our story and she told one of the ladies that “she couldn’t believe students from college were coming down to help out.”

Early to bed, early to rise…

As we woke up early Wednesday morning, we were welcomed with overcast skies. It wasn’t raining hard, but we were worried that it would prevent us from working on the roof. We left the church, as always every morning, at 7:30 a.m. to get down to the job site at 8:00 a.m.  When we got to the job site, it was still overcast, but we all agreed we needed to get it done and right away.  We just decided to get to work because nothing was going to prevent us from getting the job done.

We ended up working on one side of the roof until 5:30 p.m. which put us over our normal schedule of being done by 4:00 p.m.  We had the option of leaving at 4 p.m., however, the students did not want to leave until they completed one side of the roof. So dinner was delayed and the students that left at 4:00 p.m. to get dinner prepared had some time to relax.

Two of our students, Clifton Graves and Tina Raeke, were the lead workers on the roof. They both had prior experience with roofing, so they motivated everyone and made sure everyone knew what they were doing. If it were not for Cliff & Tina’s hard work, dedication and patience we would not have been as successful with the roof today.

Those students who were not on the roof today were inside the house working on drywall and plastering.

Family time

Since the whole group was on site today, everyone got to meet the kids and the mom who live in the house we’re fixing.  This bonding time reinforced the relationship between the ASB students and the family.

When the older kids got home from school today, we had a basketball and soccer ball waiting for them that we bought because of one of the children,  Luis, said he had a basketball, but it was flat. Steve Galdo came up with the idea of buying a soccer ball and basketball for the kids and having everyone on the ASB trip sign the ball so they’d always remember us.

The group was very thankful when the grandmother (it’s technically her house that we are working on) offered to feed us lunch. She said her brother was a manager for a pizza place so she could get pizza or she would make us fajitas for lunch. We felt blessed and honored that people with hardly anything to give would want to provide us with lunch. We told them it was a fantastic idea and that we would supply silverware and drinks for everyone.

After things were all said and done and before everyone got back to work, the grandmother looked at her grandchildren and said, “Maybe one day you’ll go there (in reference to Penn State Behrend).”  That was really great to hear.


Tonight’s reflection was lead by Courtney Smith, the treasurer for Reality Check. It focused on remembrance. It was a picture frame that you could design and put things on to to remember the trip so it was a nice break from talking, and it was a good way to end the day.

Beyond building…

Chasity Wilson came up with the idea of buying shoes for the kids which is a fantastic idea since most of the time when we see the kids they don’t have any shoes on. One of our advisors, Maya Pillay, thought we could even take that further and provide some food and toys for the family. She asked the students to give whatever they could give and we raised a total of $400 dollars to go to buy food and other necessities for the family. The group applauded and cried with happiness.  Also, Maya suggested that we give some of the hamburgers and hot dogs we have to eat to the family because we had lots of leftovers from previous meals.

Shopping & karaoke tonight

Tonight (Wednesday) we are going out on the town again. Some are going out shopping for the family and others are going to do karaoke.

We look forward to what is in store for us tomorrow and we hope parents and friends see this blog and are as  inspired to help out as we are.

On that note, it’s time to stop typing and enjoy the night and bonding that’s in store for the group.

See you tomorrow,


— Jon

It’s not just about building a house, it’s about building a relationship

By Jon Wolff 

The focus of our group’s reflection time on Monday night was on unity and how our group exemplified a spirit of teamwork and togetherness.  Four rocks from the work site were selected, and a “U” was painted on each rock to  symbolize unity (and as a way of saying “U Rock”). One rock is given to each advisor to present as a reward to the hardest worker, or to someone from each group who best represents unity throughout our time working at the site.

Day 2 — Tuesday

Today was an awesome day all around. Most of our group went to the work site, but there was a group of seven who split off and went to Su Caa De Esperanza to work with some local children and their mothers at this learning program. This group included: Ian McGinnity, Nicole Donaldson, Lauren Smith, Melanie Koster, Marissa Morrisette, and Michelle Godzinski. They worked with two groups of kids — about fifteen 3- and 4-year-olds and a group of five  2- and 3-year-olds.

The Behrend group  helped out in any way possible, but for this group of seven, the day was less work and more play.

The students helped lead the teaching of the alphabet, shapes and colors, and different basic vocabulary. They also played on the playground outside the facility and chased the kids around. They said it was a great experience, culturally, educationally, and inspirationally. They were impressed by the dedication the staff had to the children there. They also remarked how kind and appreciative the mothers and workers were to have them there. The group ended the day by helping prepare little paper Easter baskets with bunny ears on them for the kids to have for their Easter programs.

Back at the job site…
Meanwhile, at the work site, today was all about fixing up all that stuff we demolished yesterday.

We split into small groups of four to five people and tackled a different section of the house. First, we rebuilt the ceiling with drywall, making sure it was as even and perfect as possible. Then, we hung new drywall on the walls. There were some minor setbacks, such as gaping holes in the walls, but they were all handled well and fixed with dedication and teamwork.

Today, the children of the family who lives in the house we are working on came to the job site and interacted with everyone, laughing, talking, and running around blowing bubbles and making today’s atmosphere really upbeat, spirited, and productive.  It was also very culturally rewarding because the kids spoke a lot of Spanish and really showed us what their culture is like.


Nightly reflection

Our reflection Tuesday night was based on culture, and everyone seemed to agree that everything we had experienced that day was culturally enriching and rewarding. We also reflected on the importance of not taking things for granted because we are very privileged and for the most part, free and safe, as opposed to people who need to constantly worry about putting food on the table and about avoiding danger from drug cartels. The reflection was a great way to end the day, and we ended the reflection by doing a “Texas-y” dance and doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Beyond building houses

Today was not just about building a house, but also relationships. Two young boys came over asking for food and the ASB students gave up their lunch for them. We aren’t just building a house, we are building a relationship of service, friendship, faith in each other as a group and between the family we are repairing the house for. We are a family of friends, a family of students and a family that has built a relationship of trust in one another.

As we close for the day we do so with a smile and look forward to the new day.

Until then,


— Jon

ASB project in the news

The Monitor, a newspaper in McAllen, Texas, stopped by to chat with the Penn State Behrend Alternative Spring Break group.  Read the story here.

Day 2 – pictures

Drywalling has begun!