By Colleen Boyle Sharp
Special to The CS&T

While most college students will be putting on sunscreen and flip-flops during spring break, Catherine “Katie” Blumenstock, a student at Holy Family University, is opting for the less fashionable look of a hard hat and work belt.

Blumenstock will not join the multitude of party-ready co-eds who will be swarming the beaches of South Florida this spring. Instead she has chosen an alternative spring break, building houses in Spokane, Wash.

Twenty-one Holy Family University students along with Blumenstock will be participating in Habitat for Humanity’s Collegiate Challenge. The “Alternative Spring Break” program, which was started by Habitat 20 years ago, offers opportunities for students to put their faith into action and help eliminate substandard housing by building homes in some of the country’s most poverty stricken areas.

The trip will be the sophomore’s second Habitat experience. Last spring Blumenstock spent a week living in the recreation center of a Baptist Church while building and rehabbing houses in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“It’s an experience that changed my life,” said Blumenstock, who is majoring in secondary education for mathematics. “By seeing the way other people lived it made me realize just how fortunate I was. We may feel the economy is bad, but I know I have it so much better than most people.”

Working eight hours each day Blumenstock said she learned many new skills. Demolishing a kitchen, cutting down trees and framing a house were some of the many challenges she faced while in Texas.

“Being so far away from my family was not something I was really comfortable with, but I learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of doing,” she said. Blumenstock, who lives with her parents and two younger sisters, is a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bensalem, Bucks County. She is a graduate of Bensalem High School, and she attended kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Timothy School in Northeast Philadelphia.

Blumenstock describes her transition to public education as hard.

“When I found out we were moving and that I would be going to Bensalem I was not really happy. The idea of going to a public school seemed a lot different, but I have to admit, I really did end up loving it,” she said.

When it was time to pick a college, Blumenstock felt Holy Family University was the ideal choice. “One of the reasons I chose to go to Holy Family was because I didn’t want to be far from home, but I also knew I wanted to go to a Catholic College – I missed what Catholic education offered.”

At Holy Family Blumenstock said she attends daily Mass at the campus center and has become involved in the university’s music ministry. Vice president of the PiGers – a campus math club – Blumenstock also volunteers her time tutoring students in math at the university’s Center for Academic Enhancement. She also mentors incoming freshman through a program called “The First Year Experience.”

As Blumenstock prepares for her trip to Spokane on Feb. 27, she said even though this will be the farthest she has ever been from her family she is looking forward to the experience.

“Working with Habitat has really helped me to mature and grow. I hope I can continue to work with the Habitat program even after I graduate,” she said.

Colleen Boyle Sharp is a freelance writer and photographer, and a parishioner of St. Katherine of Siena in Philadelphia.