Alternative Reading Week gives students transformative experience

Though her luggage was temporarily lost, Karoline Lucas found something far more meaningful on a recent trip to South Carolina — community.

During the Winter Reading Week, Lucas took part in Brock University’s Alternative Reading Week trip to Sumter, S.C., where a team of students and staff assisted in a Habitat for Humanity building project.

In spite of her luggage not arriving until the second-last day of the trip, the 21-year-old Concurrent Education student said the experience was transformative and provided a litany of valuable lessons and new friendships.

“We learned not only how to build a house and use different tools but also how to work with other people and the importance of volunteering,” she said.

Having sent teams to Sumter for seven years, Brock’s presence in the community is well-established. Lucas, or “Carolina with a K,” as local residents liked to call her, was astonished by the hospitality and appreciation shown to the team.

“The community provided our meals and gave us places to sleep and have our meetings,” she said. “They were incredibly generous and always encouraging.”

Lucas and her team members framed a new building when the weather was clear while also learning how to hang doors, lay flooring and paint walls when the rain arrived.

But it was meeting the family who would occupy the home the Brock team was building that made Lucas pause to reflect on the greater impact of her actions.

“It was a single mom and her two-year-old son,” she said. “To meet them and hear their story was really impactful.”

Megan Brown, Brock’s Community Engagement Co-ordinator, has taken part in three Sumter trips and said the partnership gets stronger each winter.

“We have built such a strong relationship and partnership with Habitat for Humanity in Sumter that they have become like family,” she said. “They go above and beyond to welcome us, and some volunteers told us they feel like Brock alumni, since they are still wearing the sunglasses or shirts we brought for them in past years.”

In addition to the new friendships and skills the team was developing, Brown said the week on the building site also connected to many of the skills the University hopes students will leave Brock with.

“Better understanding a community that is not their own, facilitating group activities and being adaptable to work in a new environment that does not come naturally will all serve them well as they begin their careers,” she said.

Lucas said the building project also related directly to a specific cornerstone of her studies in Education and Brock’s learning model in general.  .

“In Concurrent Education, we talk a lot about experiential learning,” she said. “It’s one thing to read about something like Habitat for Humanity, but until you are actually there, you can’t truly appreciate the effort and camaraderie that come with this project and the human interaction it provides.”

While already planning to go on the trip again next year, Lucas hopes other students will consider joining her to continue Brock’s ongoing legacy in a place that quickly came to feel like home.

“It’s a great way to get involved, go somewhere new and give back to someone in such a monumental way,” she said.

To learn more about Brock’s Alternative Reading Week options, visit the Student Life Involvement Commons in MCA 204 or email

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