When the words “Key West” are mentioned, paradise, tourists, and beer probably come to mind. What if I told you that my spring break in the Keys only involved the first of those three things? This year, I helped plan and lead a spring break service trip through UCF’s Catholic Campus Ministry. A total of thirteen of us hopped into cars and drove a solid seven hours south. We stayed at the only Basilica in Key West, St. Mary Star of the Sea.
We’d start our day by attending daily mass, grab breakfast, and then split off to do different service projects. The Keys were hit pretty hard by Hurricane Irma, and so most of the projects centered around repairs. In addition to running a school, the Basilica runs different outreach programs, so our work centered around repairing their school library as well as their local food pantry, and working at a community kitchen. We’d have a couple of free hours in the afternoon, dinner together, and a quick recap of how our days went. After that, we’d spend an hour together in adoration, and had the rest of the night to ourselves.
The nice part of this particular trip was that it was definitely ingrained in service, yet we still had enough free time to do “Key West-y” things. Our first night there, getting Key Lime pie was our first priority. During the week, we visited Mallory Square, the Southernmost point, the Hemingway House, and Truman’s Little White House. Friday was going to be our last day there, and so we spent the morning snorkeling and the afternoon helping the church with their weekly Lenten fish fry.
I think that the concept of a service oriented spring break is a bit daunting to some, and understandably so. Spring Break is supposed to be a time of relaxation, and six hours of manual labor four days a week sounds like anything but. But I don’t think that breaks are for shutting down and doing nothing. I think breaks are supposed to serve as renewal, not necessarily just relaxation. Serving and loving others in a beautiful location was honestly just that; a well-needed mental and spiritual refresher. Another big realization from the trip was how unique our situation was. A lot of people go to Key West to take things, whether it’s seashells or pictures. It felt really good to our best to give, rather than take.
I highly encourage you to go on a spring break service trip next year. A lot of different UCF organizations host trips, whether you’re interested in the Alternative Break Program through Volunteer UCF or one of the three trips that Catholic Campus Ministry offers (#shamelessplug). It's a great way to destress from school, make new friends, and help a community in need.