Alternative Spring Break 2019: Decatur, Alabama

For Spring Break 2019 (March 16-23) PBHA students travel to Decatur, Alabama for a transformative service trip, including building homes with Habitat for Humanity and visiting historic Civil Rights locations. Hear about their trip in their own words.


It is Day 2 in Alabama and what better way to spend St. Patrick’s Day than in Birmingham. We had an early start to our day dressed in our Sunday best with a lovely breakfast at the famous Waffle House, kindly sponsored by the Rotary Club. We all enjoyed a nice big southern breakfast to fuel us for our day trip to Birmingham, and I even got to try grits for the first time! After our meal, we divided ourselves between two cars and hit the road. Along the way we listened to some country tunes as we drove through the beautiful Alabama countryside.

Our first stop in Birmingham was at the 16th Street Baptist Church, the historical site of a racial bombing in 1963. Before church, we managed to have time to walk around one of the local parks and enjoy the sunny weather. We all attended the service together at 10:45 am and were immediately welcomed by the community. It was an amazing feeling and so great to see the community coming together for worship.

After church, we went to lunch at Post Office Pies, generously sponsored by members of the Harvard Club of Birmingham. We had some delicious pizza and great conversations with some of the Harvard Club members. Next, we went to explore more of the city with a car tour by one of the Harvard Club members who showed us Downtown Birmingham as well as the University of Alabama, Birmingham. We then went to Vulcan, the largest stone statue in the country, where we saw breathtaking views.

The day continued as we all went to the Civil Rights Institute which powerfully illustrated the struggles of African Americans in the 20th century. It was inspiring to see how brave these individuals were and their resilience to fight for equality. Overall, it was a great exhibit that I definitely learned a lot from.

To finish up our day, we went to Dairy Queen for some ice cream before we were back on the road to Decatur. We ended up getting dinner in Huntsville at a Thai restaurant called Phuket. After dinner we went back to our host families and are now getting ready for an exciting week ahead. We begin our house building tomorrow with Habitat for Humanity, and I could not be more thrilled. As I reflect back on today, I am so thankful for this opportunity to be in Alabama and cannot wait for what the week has in store for us all.

By Campbell Dopke ’21


THE JOURNEY TO Alabama was difficult…

…and not just because it was the first time I’d been on a plane since I was two (which explains why TSA flagged me for unknowingly smuggling a bottle of water—earning me the unique honor of going through security twice).

See, even as I was recounting travel details and trip logistics, at the back of my mind, my heart was heavy with the news of the tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. As we were taking the T and grabbing our boarding passes, as we were checking our bags and walking to our terminal—50 people, guilty only of practicing their faith,

There was something comforting about the paradox: while horrors unfolded in one part of the world, in another part of it, a group of ragtag college students were choosing to spend their Spring Break for the sake of public service. It was almost jarring to me, to see how evil could coexist with goodness.
had died—so suddenly and cruelly.

[en route to Alabama from Boston]

I will admit that I was slightly apprehensive about going to an unfamiliar place like Alabama, knowing that I was just as unfamiliar in return. But the moment we got off the plane, our incredibly dedicated and truly caring community partner (Gay, I’m fairly certain you’ll read this so I’m laying it on thick) greeted us with open arms and beaming smiles. And I mean that, really; talking with Gay Maloney, hearing about how the people of Decatur, AL were genuinely excited to welcome us, unknotted my lingering reservations.

[in Malonely residence having dinner]

I was grieving because of all the hatred and ugliness in the world, and I still do—but can I be an optimist for a moment and say that we can fight this? Take on the worst of the world by striving to be better and do better until it’s the best it can be? This is my motto for the Alternative Spring Break trip week: to keep an open mind and to value difference, to understand the nuances of a person’s background and lifestyle and choice. Because why else would we engage in public service, if not to learn from our communities so we can build them strong and united against anyone who seeks to break them?

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