New Orleans A.S.B. — Day 5

Day 5-Pops Place

By Lauren Smith and Marissa Morrissette
President and Vice President of Reality Check, respectively

We are closing in on the end of our trip, and it is sad that we only have a couple days left. The group has really bonded together and our friendships will continue to grow for years to come. As usual, our small groups are separated to different work sites. Two groups went to work on Pop’s family’s house. He is the cook for the United Saints and has made us great meals all week! The groups worked on cutting and putting up siding for the house as well as painting the entire front porch. The other two groups went to the Shalom Zone, a house across the street from United Saints. The students here worked on painting the house and finishing up the morals that the other group had worked on the previous day.

The groups were treated to an amazing lunch today! The groups working at Pop’s place went to Parkway Bakery & Tavern, which is where the Po-Boy was created. Po-Boy is a French bread sandwich dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise with all different kinds of meats. The other groups got their Po-Boys brought to them at their work site. They were delicious!

Tonight we were lucky enough to be treated to free NBA tickets to see the New Orleans Pelicans play at the downtown arena. The United Saint’s chef, Pop, was nice enough to get tickets for all of the volunteers staying that week. We were separated into some different groups for seating but all enjoyed dancing in our seats, the New Orleans basketball game food specials, and just a good basketball game. We all really got into the game and were disappointed when New Orleans lost to Memphis with little time left; it was a very close game. When the game was over, we headed back to United Saints for our evening reflection. We ended up doing reflection outside of our apartments due to the church being closed for the night. It was a little chilly for outside but we gathered around in a circle and made the best of it. Lauren led reflection tonight and focused it on the “aha moments” that tend to happen on trips like this. Everyone did some critical thinking about what volunteering really means and how important it is to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Some students expressed how talking to some of the home owners in New Orleans really was an eye-opening experience and made them love what they were doing even more.  To finish off the reflection everyone signed a Mardi Gras mask to represent our overall trip together and overall experiences that will never be forgotten. The mask will be on display in the Smith Chapel on campus along with all of the other symbolic items from previous ASB trips. Tonight was an early night in so everyone would be well rested for our last day of work. The trip has gone by way too fast, but all know we have to make the absolute best of tomorrow.

~ Lauren and Marissa

Pres and VP

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New Orleans A.S.B. — Day 4


By Lauren Smith and Marissa Morrissette
President and Vice President of Reality Check, respectively

Today was a rainy day in New Orleans. The groups went to a couple different sites, mostly inside. Two groups went to Mr. Earnest’s house to tile, paint, plaster, and install hardwood. We have never seen such a hard-working group of students. Everyone tackled their activities with full force and didn’t even want to take a lunch break. Mr. Earnest touched everyone’s hearts with his story and experience with Hurricane Katrina. He really began to open up and shared photos of his house after the hurricane. It’s safe to say that we definitely helped make a difference in getting him in his house a little quicker. The other group stayed at the church to clean and even got a chance to paint murals for houses around the city! These murals will be used as boards to board up the houses from people breaking in and stealing wood and other materials. The final group went to Mr. David’s house. He showed the volunteers pictures of his house after Hurricane Katrina and the amount of water damage. The group helped with mudding, demolition, painting, and worked on his laundry room.

For the night, the students got to choose if they wanted to go to Magazine Street, Bourbon Street, or to the French Quarter. One group went to Bourbon Street and enjoyed the must-see culture of New Orleans. Another group headed to Magazine Street where they bonded with a fun walk down town and ice cream! The last group went to French Quarters to search for the amazing Cafe Du Monde. They are well known for their traditional New Orleans French doughnuts called beignets. We all go our separate ways at times, but we’re always creating stronger bonds throughout this trip. The days are flying by, but memories that are being created will last for a lifetime.

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New Orleans A.S.B. — Day 3


By Lauren Smith and Marissa Morrissette
President and Vice President of Reality Check, respectively

Today our group started to go from strangers to one big family. It only took one day of work, and it’s now like we’ve known each other for forever. We got up at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast provided by United Saints and each group decided where to work. Two groups went to Mr. Steve’s house for siding and painting work. One group went to help out at ARC, where they separated Mardi Gras beads with the intellectually disabled. The last group went to do garden work in a New Orleans community. While doing our work in the amazing 75-degree weather, we heard that Erie had a winter weather warning on the way. We couldn’t be more thankful for how beautiful our first day was! Everyone was working hard in the hot sun and some of us have sunburns to prove it.



After all 28 of us showered (which is quite the chore), we enjoyed a simple pizza meal to end our great day. Our first reflections started tonight, which included Marissa’s, our four trusty advisers, and Paul’s. Marissa’s reflection started off by her handing out bandannas for the small groups (a different color for each group). The bandannas were to symbolize teamwork and the students getting to know one another better. The advisers’ reflection helped the students understand more about what happened in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit and how it still affects the area today. They also asked each student to write down the moment when they fell in love with service or their most memorable service experience. We each wrote ours on a large poster board, and we were able to look at each other and talk about our experiences. The last reflection of the night was a crafty one. Paul brought in picture frames that everyone could decorate and have a place to put their memories.

We ended the night with a game of spoon and then headed to the Creole Creamery to experience the famous ice cream.


New Orleans A.S.B. — Day 1 and 2


By Marissa Morrissette
Vice President of Reality Check

This year, we started off our trip with two days of cultural experiences. We arrived safely in New Orleans around 10:00 a.m., looking forward to the days ahead. After stuffing the vans to the rim, we made our way to the United Saints Recovery Project. After arriving, we were greeted by volunteer coordinator Jen, who showed us around the area. We were eager to unpack and head out and explore.

We went to lunch and noticed the aftermath of Mardi Gras along the way. We noticed all of the colorful beads hanging from the trees and along the roads. Some of the students went tree to tree to gather some of the authentic New Orleans beads. If that doesn’t scream tourist, we don’t know what does. After accessorizing, we headed back to our apartments to relax and get ready for the night.

We got to experience a totally different culture when we had to take a street car to Bourbon Street. The streets of Bourbon were lit up and full of energy. Some students tried the local cuisine while others experienced the local artisans.


Day 2 started off early as we got in the vans and headed toward the swamps. We had a swamp tour planned at Jean Lafittes, a well-known tour around the area. We stopped for a quick breakfast and got on our boat! Our captain, Dave, had a wealth of knowledge to share with us and surprised us with a baby alligator that we got to all hold. Some were a little more surprised than others when one of our advisers booked it to the other side of the boat after seeing it.

We finished off the day walking the streets of the French Quarter on a Ghost and Vampire Tour. This tour took us to many different locations where Philip, the tour guide, explained the historical ghost and vampire stories attracted to them.

~ Marissa


A.S.B. on a mission to restore homes & hearts in New Orleans

By Lauren Smith and Marissa Morrissette
President and Vice President of Reality Check, respectively

It’s been nine years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Louisiana, yet the clean-up continues. There are residents who are still not back in their homes which were severely damaged by the massive storm.

Twenty-four students from Penn State Behrend’s Reality Check and four advisors are leaving Erie on March 8, 2014, to spend spring break restoring the homes and hearts of communities affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

We will be working with United Saints Recovery Project— a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that has a mission to assist communities that have suffered damage from natural disasters, helping residents return home, improve their quality of life and strengthen their communities.

Students will help in a variety of ways: gutting damaged homes, roofing, drywall installation, mudding, sanding, painting, flooring, yard work, and landscaping. When the work day is done, we will also be taking advantage of the local culture. We are sure we won’t run out of options in New Orleans! We are also hoping that we will get a better of understanding of how far they have come since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

We will be living in apartment style living with bunk beds and two showers to share. We will not be the only school volunteering in New Orleans for our spring break. Along with us will be Cleveland Institute of Art, St. Theresa’s Valparaiso University, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest. While we will be a little spoiled by their chef for breakfast and dinner, we will be responsible for helping with clean-up after meals and making our own lunches to take to our work site each day. The apartments are just blocks away from Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and all things New Orleans.

Our work will begin first thing in the morning on March 10; our last day of work will be Thursday and we’ll return home on Friday, March 14.

We couldn’t be more excited for journey that lies ahead and to see what New Orleans has to offer, but more importantly what we can do to make a difference!

We invite you to join us. Follow us on this Penn State Behrend Gives Back blog where we will post periodic updates.

~ Lauren and Marissa

Puerto Rico A.S.B. — Day 6

Puerto Rico – Alternative Spring Break 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Today is our final day in Puerto Rico.

Much like Wednesday, the group split into two. One of the groups stayed at the farm and did various projects around the farm. The other group left for the elder center.

Before we got to the center, however, the group was asked by one of the Pleintud staff if they would be willing to go and help a neighbor.  The group helped plant nine different plants, which the woman greatly appreciated. We learned that she grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York when she was six years old.

photogroup with flag

The group working at the farm had a successful day as well with all they’re hard work they completed. The natural building for the super-adobe continued. All of the rock foundation is now in place as well as the draining system. It really is amazing what can be done with natural earth materials! Another group on the farm got some planting done and mulching which turned out so good.


When we got to the elder center we interacted with the residents. Some played dominos while others painted and helped spread cardboard and dirt around the garden.

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The group is in the process of packing and getting ready for our busy night of traveling. We will be having a small dinner at the farm and then going bomba dancing followed by a final group dinner at a Thai restaurant.

The travel agenda includes leaving Aquadillla at 2:50 a.m. on Friday and landing in New Jersey around 6:05 a.m.  We will all be back in Pittsburgh around 10 a.m. on Friday.

To family and friends:

I would like to personally thank you for encouraging your son/daughter to go on this trip.The individuals in this group all have  fantastic personalities and work ethics. They are all motivational and have a sense of pride. They have  all showed me motivation and a love for service and helping those in need.  I would encourage you to keep motivating them because not every student would give up their spring break to help with service.  Thank you all! — Jon Wolff, president of Reality Check

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The time we have all shared together has been memorable and I wouldn’t ask for a better family to spend it with than the 2013 Alternative Spring Break group.

Thank you for  reading this year’s blog.


— Jon, Ian & Lauren



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, part 2

Monday continued…

The rest of Monday turned out to be a very productive day. Upon finishing our blog for the first days, we (Ian, Lauren and Jon) returned back to the farm. The ASBers divided into three separate groups. The group projects included working on the installation of a latrine a natural building (see slideshow in previous post) and the road of the farm.

When the groups were done, everyone was instructed to get a shower. That took some time since 27 of us are sharing.  Then, we headed out to watch the sunset and enjoy a group dinner with some of the workers from Plenitud.



— 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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