Past Breakaways

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Friends of Buford Park and Mt. Piskah (FOBP)

Friends of Buford Park and Mt. Piskah (FOBP)-    Why would eight UWT students and faculty seek to spend a spring break restoring critical habitat on the Coast Fork of the Willamette River, without the promise of academic credit or pay? Some came for the environment. Some to make new friends, but all came to connect to something deeper by trip’s end.

Inspired by last year’s trip, student organizer Frederick Anex-Schnauss assembled a diverse team of students of all majors and personalities to gather in a common cause: to help restore critical habitats damaged by human intervention.

But the trip was off to a rocky start. Due to personal events, two participants dropped out.   The students in the remaining group of eight--the minimum size required to hold the trip--expressed some uneasiness conducting projects in nature and so far outside their comfort zones and majors.

But as training began the team started to come together, work seemed less daunting. Working with Meiko-- the FOBP Volunteer Coordinator-- in the critical habitat called the Turtle Flats, students planted native species to restore the ecological relationships once damaged by gravel mining.  Things started coming into focus. "We learned what they don't see about the environment,” one initially hesitant student noted. “We need it. We can't survive without it. It's not in my major but it's essential for my life."  

By trip’s end, a connection hadn’t just deepened with the environment but with the environment and its connection to our relationships.  A final student reflection noted, “ I realized that people must be mindful and careful in order to keep the right balance between good intentions and imposing ideas.” And by the end you could tell the group was thinking about their relationships to each other, the land and community”

“Coming into this felt uneasy,” a student wrote. “But coming out I have a renewed energy to understand why we do this. It isn't (necessarily) volunteering, the planning, the struggle of getting going that matters. It’s the connections to ourselves, each other, the community. So without getting too analytical about the trip, thank you BreakAway for bringing me in and making me part of this.”


Habitat for Humanity Tacoma

 Habitat for Humanity Tacoma-   Frederick Anex-Schnauss recruited a team of 12 passionate and diverse students to “engage our social issue of housing affordability,” through the construction of Habitat for Humanity homes. Before the trip, students attended training and educated themselves on the historical, cultural and economic causes of gentrification in South Sound’s Hilltop and Tillicum neighborhoods.   While some of the students learned about this history for the first time, others knew about it first-hand and had joined the trip to engage the issue. This is a common fight. Anex-Schnauss said. “One student lives in a Habitat home, another has experienced homelessness, and another was in the process of finding housing.”  

After training, the students put on their tool belts, took up their hammers and Tyvek, and set out to Tillicum to take action.

Students were able to fully nail plywood for two houses, fully wrap and insulate one house, landscape another, and bring a home up to muster to pass inspection. Not to mention countless other small projects the group was able to complete during their excursion. “It was amazing to see,” Habitat Community Engagement Manager Tracy Sorenson said. “This was the hardest working group I’ve had all year.”

While the students in the BreakAway group set out to build houses in Tillicum, they also found that they were building a community among each other through a common cause.

“I am usually really shy but breakaway helped me meet other people” one student wrote in an anonymous reflection.  Another wrote, “I really got to know some of the other people here both in and out of my major.”

Students reflected that they learned to “be more assertive”, while also knowing when to “embraced the humility of being part of a team.”

It’s an amazing thing to see , when a  we realize build habitats for humanity  isn’t just about plywood and nails, but offering students a chance to lead from their experiences while constructing community here at UW Tacoma.