In the week before quarter break, almost every conversation revolved around one of three upcoming events: finals, Florida, or forty years of hibernation. For Rose students Erin Campbell, Greg Larmore, Garrett Meyer, Homa Hariri, and Josiah Wang, the focus instead fell on Tutwiler, Mississippi, and their Habitat for Humanity service trip through Saint Joseph’s Campus Ministry.
It was a nippy Sunday morning when the Campus Minister Jeff Schaffer led the troupe out from Terre Haute, but the sunshine and overloaded minivan warmed them up as they traveled south. After stopping at Lambert’s Café per Garrett’s suggestion—where servers threw rolls at the diners—they were welcomed to the Mississippi Delta by their supervisor JD and his deep grin half-lined with golden caps.
The new two-bedroom, one-bath, one-story Habitat home was already framed, roofed, and sheet-rocked by the time the Rose students arrived, but JD chuckled at the suggestion that there was not any work left to be done. From Monday to Friday, the crew installed windows and doors, painted walls, spackled ceilings, and stained wood trim. Because they boasted only a handful of construction projects compared to JD’s 37 prior Habitat jobs, Greg and Garrett’s Sawzall cuts were not always straight, Josiah’s hammer sometimes had trouble finding its nail, and Erin and Homa’s painting clothes rarely stayed clean. Their charitable spirit, however, never came into question. The team’s volunteer labor continued that of prior Habitat groups to allow Tutwiler resident LaShonda to own the house for only the cost of its materials.
The Fightin’ Engineers found lots of ways to spend their downtime. While on site, smooth R&B poured from a paint-splattered boom box, and the crew occasionally joined JD when they could not hold back their jiggy moves. Tutwiler claimed to be the “Birthplace of the Blues,” so the team learned names like W.C. Handy and Muddy Waters by visiting nearby Clarksdale and its Delta Blues Museum on a free afternoon. They spent their evenings cooking dinner and ended each day in prayerful reflection.
The team reached out to the community in more ways than building a house. They were invited to the local clinic and there met Sister Doctor Anne Eucharista Brooks, the 2012 American Osteopathic Foundation Physician of the Year. For the past 30 years, the 75-year-old woman and her donation-funded clinic have accepted all patients regardless of their ability to pay—a daunting task in an area where nearly 40 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Though Sister Brooks’s words were saturated with hardship, the group clearly sensed the joy she derived from her service.
On their last day in Tutwiler, the team hosted a potluck dinner in their dorm. The students bought ingredients from the nearest grocery store (a striking 25 minutes away in rural northwest Mississippi) to bake blonde brownies, and local Habitat families brought brimming broiler pans of fried chicken and macaroni for the occasion. After stuffing their stomachs, the young Mississippians and young-at-heart Engineers entertained themselves with thumb wars, musical chairs, Mancala, and Angry Birds.
When asked for the most memorable part of the trip, Josiah responded that “what stuck with me most was the hopelessness and futility in many of the people’s lives,” but added that he really loved the “joy, energy, and fun we had the night of the potluck.” Homa wished to say to students considering a similar service trip that “you learn it’s not about you, but about them. You don’t learn that until you are in someone else’s community.”

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