SUNY Oswego students and staff recently helped a new homeowner and Habitat for Humanity in Omaha -- one of four alternative winter break trips, along with New Orleans; Memphis; and Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

“I went to Omaha, Nebraska, and we drove there, and it was really fun, and it was kind of like a nice bonding trip because there were nine of us,” said Lindsay Rice, a senior business administration major.  Seven students and two professional staff members made the trip.

“After driving for 20 hours, we were introduced to the Omaha, Nebraska, Habitat for Humanity site,” said Jane LeBlanc, a mental health counselor at SUNY Oswego’s Counseling Services Center.

“While we were on the site, we were actually restoring a house,” Rice said. “So it was down to the bare bones … and I was putting up walls to try and shift them. We were expanding the room. We also put up walls for a new garage that we were putting in the backyard. Ripping out stairs in the basement. And it was an old dirt basement, so it was shoveling the dirt out, putting it in buckets and bringing it to the dumpster.”

Senior biology major Stacy Palacios noted that knowledge about construction was not required, since participants learned a lot on site.

“I don’t even know how to use a hammer,” Palacios said. “They are so patient with you.” She worried that something might go wrong, such as a ceiling collapsing, but organizers said “be careful, you can do this” and explained everything and encouraged everybody to keep trying, she said.

Students learned “a sense of giving back to the community,” said LeBlanc, who was part of the college’s first-ever break around a decade ago. “They understand the importance of citizenship. They understand the importance of representing SUNY Oswego as students as well.”

Palacios noted that the new homeowners “never had a set place to call home,” she said. “So when you get to learn how they apply, they work three jobs to get to sustain their family and they have to work for the houses ...

While she has always known having a house and "I never had to work for it," Palacios said, "seeing this single parent or a couple with their own kid trying to build a house for giving them a better future just humbles you and makes you want to help even more. Every single thing, from cleaning or doing the ceiling, you’re contributing to someone’s future and that’s just so rewarding and amazing.”

“All of us came back saying we really didn’t want to leave and we just wanted to stay longer, like we would have stayed forever if we could,” Rice said. “You come away feeling very blessed and feeling like you’re making a difference in the world.”

A number of alternative spring break trips are filling up. For more information on alternative breaks or to register, visit: