An unusual Spring Break destination

Mar 4, 2014

While most students plan to spend spring break relaxing on the beach in Florida or hanging out with their good friend Netflix, 20 eager and excited Heidelberg students are headed to Biloxi, Miss., to serve with the Back Bay Mission. Back Bay Mission is a missionary program in Biloxi that meets the needs of people who are suffering from poverty and its effects. Heidelberg students will contribute to the building of a house belonging to residents in Biloxi who are in desperate need of assistance.

Blog written by Kate Kuhajda, sophomore communication studies major.

March 7

Blogging from Birmingham, ladies and gentlemen! That's right, we are heading back to Ohio!

Our last morning in Biloxi was beautiful and sunny. After breakfast, the group went to the house to finish up our work there. Hannah, Meghan and I went to the local soup kitchen in Biloxi called Loaves and Fishes. Going to Loaves and Fishes was my favorite part of this trip. We got there around 7:30 and served breakfast to the homeless and those who have homes but cannot afford meals. After breakfast ended, we helped Chef Earl package 153 lunches to be delivered to residents in Biloxi who cannot make it to the soup kitchen. That took up a good part of our morning and after that it was lunch time where we served lunch to many of the same people from breakfast and some new people. After that we helped clean up then we left.

It may not sound like much, but being there was incredible. The homeless people love having someone to listen to their stories, so not only were we feeding them, but we were also making their days. I learned so much about so many different people. Every person has a story and it is amazing how some of the people there went from having so much to having nothing in a matter of a few months. I learned that some of the homeless people love being homeless and feel free living that way. At Loaves and Fishes my eyes were opened and I was given an entirely new perspective on homeless people and their lives. Now, not a day will go by where I don't think about some of the new friends that I made today at the soup kitchen. They were able to make Hannah, Meghan and I smile, and we were able to make them smile back, it was perfect.

After we finished working at Loaves and Fishes, we went to meet up with the group and finish the house! The progress that we made on the house this week is truly incredible and it looks like an entirely different house than it did on Monday. We were informed that families will be able to move in by the end of March. In the long run, we helped so many families by fixing up the house. It is a great feeling to have seen the progress that we made and to know how much we are helping the community.

When we got back to the mission, we packed up and prepared to say our goodbyes. We had one final meeting with the Back Bay staff where we reflected on the week. Don then read a beautiful devotion that he had written about how we are never alone when we have God. The devotion put us all at peace and gave us some food for thought for the drive home.

After that we packed up the vans, said goodbye to Biloxi and drove 5 hours to Birmingham for the night. It was hard to leave Biloxi after such an inspirational week of service. Happy doesn't even begin to cover how I feel about having gone on this trip. It is astounding that 9 years after Hurricane Katrina, there is still so much to be done in order to fix up Biloxi. It is satisfying to know that Heidelberg was able to contribute to the rebuilding of Biloxi. There is still so much to be done and I know for a fact that Heidelberg already has a spot booked for next spring break. I am thankful that there are other colleges, schools and churches that work in Biloxi through Back Bay Mission as well because it shows that more people than just us want to do good and make a difference in the world.

We can all learn a lesson from the homeless and poverty stricken people of Biloxi. Although they don't have much, they have hope and are in good spirits about their lives and their futures. Personally, I know that next time I get upset over something little, I will think back to this week and remember that some have it worse and still stay positive.

Thank you all for reading my Biloxi Blog this week! I hope that you enjoyed hearing about our journey through the week and all of our experiences.

March 6

Our last full day in Biloxi was nothing short of spectacular!

Up before the sun, we ate breakfast and got ready to go work on the house again. Today was particularly exciting because the sun was shining! I've made the terrible mistake of not giving weather updates in my previous blogs, but let's just say that we have see a lot of grey skies, rain and 50 degree weather.

Because of the sunshine, once we got to the house, people were able to work outside! Kelly and Elizabeth painted the outside awning while Nick, Vickie, Jordan and Claire washed all of the windows. Some of us continued to work inside, odd jobs such as scraping paint off of the floor, sweeping all of the floor and installing new shower heads in the bathroom. Like I said yesterday, the house is coming along nicely and it is so satisfying to see the improvements.

We wrapped up out work around noon, went back to the mission, ate, showered and then the real fun began. Our entire group made the hour and a half drive to New Orleans this afternoon and got to spend the rest of day there.

I was surprised that we didn't need our passports to get in to the city because being in New Orleans felt like we had left America and were in a different country. We spent all of our time in the French Quarter, where all of the roads begin with "Rue" and there are tons of trendy little French cafés. When we arrived, the group went to the steps at Jackson Square, which overlook Saint Louis Cathedral. The view was beautiful and I have never seen a more stunning building. The buildings in the French Quarter were all old and colonial looking and we found out that most were built in the 1800s.

After we went to the steps, our group broke off into three groups. Once group went to dinner at Napoleon's house, a French restaurant and then explored and shopped. The second group ate dinner at the Gumbo Shop and then went to the French Market, where they were able to buy basically anything from food to souvenirs to clothing. Group three, the group that I was in ate dinner at the French Market Cafe. Nic Dyer ordered alligator tails (which looked surprisingly similar to chicken tenders) and definitely earned the most adventurous eater award. After dinner we were able to explore, shop and walk around the French Quarter. The shops around the French Quarter were incredibly unique and there was so much to look at in every shop.

At one point, we made our way to Bourbon street, which was quite an adventure. There were so many people from so many walks of life. If you are an avid people watcher, then Bourbon Street is the place for you. The balconies were full of people and so were the streets and everyone was laughing, listening to music and still celebrating Mardi Gras.

At the end of the evening, the whole group met back up at a French cafe called Cafe Du Monde. It was at Cafe Du Monde that I discovered my new favorite dessert. We all enjoyed these powdered doughnuts called Beignets, which were so wonderful that I basically fell in love.

I am writing this blog as we are driving back to Biloxi and it is giving me the opportunity to reflect on how lucky I am to be in this trip and going to so many new places. New Orleans was quite an unforgettable experience and I am happy that we got to go while on this trip.

Tomorrow is our last day of work and then we are beginning our journey back to Ohio, stopping in Birmingham again. I will be sad to say goodbye to Biloxi, because this week has been wonderful!

March 5

Day 3 of Biloxi week and still having a blast!

It was obvious that today would be a good one because we woke up to a delicious breakfast of pancakes and sausage made by the fantastic Peggy George.

After breakfast, we drove to the house that we have been working on all week. I found out today that the house has a name, Rebecca's House, and opened in 2008 to house homeless families. The painting dream team consists of me, Vickie, Jordan and Mitchell and we began by painting a final coat of paint and then the trim in one of the bedrooms. Other groups of painters worked on bathrooms, ceilings, doors and trim. Dylan and Don spent the morning outside working on the siding on the side and back of the house. Some people spent the morning at a local soup kitchen instead of coming to the house. They reported that their morning consisted of chopping onions and getting to know the homeless people at the soup kitchen. They all said it was a great experience and they had a wonderful time. After lunch it was all hands on deck in the living room. Mostly everyone worked there the entire afternoon, cleaning, sanding, painting, taping for panting, sweeping and other odd jobs. Lindsay was on her hands and knees all afternoon chipping all of the paint off of the floors and now they look spotless, go Lindsay!

Today was really fun at the house because we really started to see everything come together. The freshly painted rooms all look brighter, cleaner and newer. The bathrooms aren't filthy anymore and all of the cob webs have been scraped off of the ceilings. All week I have felt like I was on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and finally I understand why Ty Pennington and his team loved their job so much. It truly is satisfying to take a derelict old house and transform it into something livable.

For dinner we enjoyed Mac n Cheese, peas and garlic bread. Peggy really is spoiling us with her cooking this week.Following dinner, we got in the vans and headed to a Southern Baptist Church that is located here in Biloxi. We got to attend the 7:00 service and it was truly a new experience. Southern Baptist Church services are nothing like church

 services back home. One minute we were standing up and singing, then we were sitting down and singing, then we were holding hands and singing, it kept me on my toes! The minister's message was about how we can serve the gospel in our daily lives. The service was very interesting and everyone in our group was able to take something out of the messagethat the minister was preaching to us.

Once church ended, we came back to the mission, ate ice cream sundaes and played Cards Against Humanity, which was a blast. I really feel like our group is becoming closer as the week goes on and we are having so much fun. Afterwards, some people went to Waffle House, as if we hadn't eaten enough today! The boys wanted to make it a goal to eat at a Waffle House down here and tonight they accomplished their goal. Those of us who stayed back hung out and went to bed. As the days go on, we are all becoming more and more exhausted however, I think that we are all having too much fun to care. 

March 4

I have to say, Mardi Gras in Biloxi is like nothing I have ever experienced. Like Christmas in Ohio, most businesses were closed and only the necessary stores like Target remained open. All schools along the coast had the day off and no adults went into work. The traffic was thick and the drivers impatient to get to their Mardi Gras parties (or so I would assume). Biloxi was shut down today and ready to celebrate.

We ’Berg students and faculty kicked off the day with a 7 a.m. breakfast followed by a morning of work. The leader of Back Bay Mission, Craig, encouraged us not to work today because getting to the site would be chaos with all of the traffic. Many things can be said about our work ethics due to the fact that we voted to go against Craig's warning and worked anyway. Although we were basically being handed a day off, we didn't take it. We went back to the same house that we worked on yesterday and painted some more of the rooms. Some of the guys worked in the rain and put new siding on the front of the house. We wrapped up our work at noon and went back to eat lunch and get ready to go to the Mardi Gras Parade.

After lunch, the temperature outside was hovering around 40 degrees and there was an ice cold downpour happening. Everybody was a little turned off by the idea of the parade and only six of us decided to go. Mitchell, Meghan, Dylan, Lindsay, Don and I bundled up, put on some really goofy ponchos and walked to the parade.

Biloxi's Mardi Gras Parade was the most outrageous thing that I have ever seen. Even though it was pouring, all of Biloxi and the neighboring towns were out and celebrating the day. We heard on the radio later on that the parade was 5 miles long, 104 floats were involved, more than 10,000 beads were thrown out and 30,000 people were there. Every float that went by us was blasting music, the people on the floats were dancing and dressed in the most bizarre Mardi Gras attire and they threw massive amounts of beads to every person on the street. Along with beads, people were also throwing out stuffed animals, individually wrapped moon pies, Waffle House coupons, Frisbees and so much more. The parade lasted about 2-1/2 hours and the six of us stood there in the freezing rain enjoying every minute of it. There is not a single part of me that would ever take back the experience that I had today. In one day, I was exposed to such a huge amount of Southern culture that I honestly had no idea even existed.

Once we got back to the mission, we all took warm showers and got ready to eat dinner. Peggy George made us a great dinner and we all ate grilled chicken, brats, baked potatoes, broccoli and salad together. For dessert, in honor of Mardi Gras, we had King Cake. After dinner, some of our group went to hear live music downtown in celebration of Mardi Gras and some of us (the tired ones) stayed back, played card games and hung out together.

My first real experience with Mardi Gras was so incredibly memorable as well as exhilarating and exhausting. Many times on this trip already, especially today, I have noticed how different Southern life is from Ohio life. I have already learned so much after being down here for three days and cannot wait to see what else this week has in store!

March 3

First full day in Biloxi was a success! We woke up this morning at 6 a.m. and literally haven't stopped until now! (it's about 11:30 p.m.)

This morning we had the leaders of Back Bay Mission come in and discuss safety precautions and our plans for the week. After that, the rest of the group left for the work site and Holly Oberlin and I went to work at the Micah Day Center. The Micah Day Center is run by Back Bay Mission and is open four days a week. It is not a homeless shelter, however the homeless people of Biloxi can go there to shower, eat, get help with job applications and use computers and phones. Holly and I spent all morning there and wiped down the bathrooms and showers after each person used one. We also were in charge of refilling the coffee pots and snack trays.

The long-term volunteer workers, who basically run the center, encouraged us to talk to the homeless people as they sat in the lobby waiting to shower. I noticed that one elderly man was wearing a Bowling Green State University shirt and so I went up to him and told him that BGSU was a college not too far from Heidelberg. The man's entire face lit up and he seemed so excited that I knew what and where BGSU is. I found out that the man's name was Sidney and I sat and talked with him about life in general for a good chunk of time.

Once Sidney had showered and was preparing to leave, he called me over and told me that he wanted me to have his shirt. This act of kindness caught me off guard and the generosity of somebody who already has so little really touched me. I told Sidney that I wanted him to keep it but was so grateful that he offered to give it to me. It is unlikely that I will ever see Sidney again, but his kind gesture was something that I will never forget.

Holly and I finished at the day center around noon, ate lunch and then went to the work site where everyone else was working. The house being fixed up is a house that is made for four families to live in at once. For the rest of the afternoon we painted, cleaned and did other odd jobs.

We finished at the work site around 4 and then got ready to go to dinner. Tonight we ate at Darwell's, which is a local seafood restaurant. Darwell's was featured on The Food Network's show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and everyone was so excited to go. The atmosphere was so fun and there was live music and much laughter and dancing. Everybody in our group raved about the seafood and said that it was the best meal that they had had in a while. As stated in my last blog post, I am an incredibly picky eater, but I have to say, my grilled cheese from Darwell's was fantastic!

After dinner we came back to the mission center and played cards, watched The Voice and did some ice breakers. I really enjoyed getting to know everybody better and hanging out and laughing with our group.

I am so excited to see what tomorrow (Fat Tuesday) has in store. Apparently Mardi Gras is a huge day down here and the entire city supposedly shuts down and has parades, parties and barbecues. It will be a new experience, that's for sure!

March 2

By 7:59 yesterday morning, we were pulling out of the Brown Hall parking lot and heading to Birmingham, Ala. We took two of the Heidelberg vans and spent most of the drive down naming our respective vans. The van that I'm in decided on Mardi the Party Van, while the other van went with the Blue Van Group

We stopped three times, which isn't bad seeing as though we were driving for 10 hours. It was so exciting to see the snow disappear and the grass turn green the further south that we got. We drove through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama all in one day. Side note, if you've never seen the Nashville skyline, I would recommend adding it to your bucket list, because the view was absolutely breathtaking. During the drive we snacked, bonded, slept and listened to music. It wasn't a bad drive at all and after a long week of midterms, it was pretty relaxing.

Once we got to Birmingham, our stop for the night, we dropped our stuff off at our hotel and headed to dinner. Right down the road was a real southern barbecue restaurant called Jim and Nick’s. I can't vouch for the barbecue there, because being the picky eater that I am, I got chicken fingers. However, everyone was pleased with their southern BBQ and I know that we all left happy and full. After we ate, we headed to downtown Birmingham to take the Civil Rights Walking Tour, which took us through the Civil Rights district of Birmingham. On the tour, we saw the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was bombed by the KKK in 1963; Kelly Ingram Park, which is home to many statues that commemorate civil rights heroes; The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and so many more historic civil rights locations. Going on the walking tour was incredibly eye opening and a wonderful reminder to all of us of how hard African American people fought for their rights.

This morning, we were out of Birmingham and headed to Biloxi by 9 a.m. The drive to Biloxi was a little over four hours, which was nothing compared to yesterday's trek. Once we arrived in Biloxi, we drove to Back Bay mission, where we will be staying all week. The mission center has a kitchen, eating area, living room and a wing for boys and a wing for the girls. The wings are equipped with about 20 beds and a bathroom, set up community dorm style. It is really clean here and definitely big enough to accommodate a bunch of college students. After we unpacked, we went to the beach. Nobody really swam because it was only about 60 degrees here. (Sorry, Ohio friends!) We did however, play some Frisbee, walk on the beach and went on the pier. After we went to the beach, we came back to the mission center, ordered pizza and have been hanging out ever since. We were told to use tonight to rest up and relax because we will be working hard for the rest of the week!

I haven't seen much of Biloxi yet and don't have much to report about my surroundings. I did see a pretty giant casino near the beach, which I have been told is Biloxi's main source of revenue. I have definitely experienced southern hospitality while being down here. Upon learning that we are on a mission trip, the locals thank us, get to know us and make us feel welcome.

So far I have really enjoyed the trip and can't wait to see what this week has in store. I am sure that my experiences will continue to get better.

March 1

The trip begins early in the morning on Saturday, March 1. Two HU vans will be packed up and will make the 15-hour drive to Biloxi, stopping in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday night. The Biloxi trip is student-led by seniors Dylan Lohr and Vickie Miller. Three Heidelberg staff members, Lindsay Kagy, Peggy George and Nic Dyer, will be chaperoning the trip, and Don Krintzline of Tiffin will be going as well. The trip will last a week and on Saturday, March 8, the HU vans will head back to Tiffin.

My name is Kate Kuhajda and I am one of the students going on the mission trip to Biloxi. I am a sophomore communication studies major and could not be more excited to have the opportunity to blog about our trip. This is the fourth year that the trip to Biloxi is taking place; however, it is only my first year going. Upon hearing about this trip, I jumped at the opportunity to go to a new place, learn about the culture of the Deep South and most importantly, help people in need. I have never been on a mission trip before and I have definitely never built a house so this will be an entirely new experience.

There are big things in store for this upcoming week. Along with building the house in Biloxi, we will be going to New Orleans one night, the beach and taking in as much of the Southern culture as possible. I hope you enjoy the updates of our trip to Biloxi, Miss.!